Showing posts with label Churches. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Churches. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Italy | Venice | Church of San Zaccaria

Wandered by the Church of San Zaccaria, just east of St. Mark’s Square. Zaccaria (Zechariah), as you probably recall, appears both in the Bible, where he figures as the father of John the Baptist and the husband of Elizabeth, a relative of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and in the Quran, where he named as the guardian of Mary and also as the father of John the Baptist. The gruesome remains of his body, presumably mummified, can still be seen here. The church is located on Campo San Zaccaria, a square which was once considered the private property of the Benedictine convent that grew up around the church. The square can only be entered by two narrow alleyways, one coming from the Grand Canal to the south and another from the small Campo San Provolo to the west. In each of these alleyways was a gated portal that allowed the square to be locked up at night and other times when the nuns did not want to be bothered by the public. I enter the square via the lane from the Campo San Provolo. Above the lintel on the outer face of the portal can be seen a marble relief of the Madonna and Child between John the Baptist and St. Mark. A half-figure of St. Zaccaria himself is poised above the pointed arch of the portal.
Portal to Campo San Zaccaria (click on photos for enlargements)
There may have been a church on the current site of San Zaccaria as early as the seventh century. We know for sure that Doge Agnello Partecipazio built a church on the site in 827 and that it was dedicated to St. Zaccaria, whose bones were sent as a gift to Venice by the Byzantine Emperor Leo V while the church was being built. Around this time a nunnery was also established. It became famous, and eventually notorious, as the depository for the unwed daughters of the Venetian aristocracy, not all of whom felt strictly bound by their oaths of celibacy. Many of its abbesses were the daughters of doges. Doges, however, were only allowed to visit the nunnery once a year, on Easter Monday.

One famous visitor to the convent was Pope Benedict III, who in 855 was granted refuge here during the upheavals surrounding the ascension of the notorious Antipope Anastasius, named pope over the objections of church hierarchy by Louis II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Anastasius was eventually sent packing and Benedict III placed on the papal throne. In gratitude to the sisters who had succored him in his hour of need (I am not suggesting anything untoward here), Pope Benedict donated to the convent a significant collection of relics, including the remains of the Saint Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296–298—373) and a piece, one of many, of the True Cross. (Athanasius is also a saint according to the Egyptian Coptic tradition. During a visit to Rome in 1973 Pope Paul VI gave the Coptic Pope Shenouda part of Athanasius’s remains, which were then taken back to Egypt. The relics are now in Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo.) The convent built during the days of Doge Agnello Partecipazio burned down in 1105. One hundred nuns are said to have died in the inferno. A new convent was built and in the1170s the church was rebuilt or at least remodeled. During the years 1483–1504 a new church was alongside the old one, parts of which can still seen. The new church, which finally was consecrated in 1543, is the one the dominates the square today.
The latest version of the church, consecrated in 1543
The church opens at 10:00 a.m. and I enter with two dozen other visitors, including elderly Europeans, some of whom are clearly on their last legs, marking Venice off their bucket lists while they still mobile, and several groups of young and middle-aged Chinese. Many make a beeline for the Giovanni Bellini’s painting “Madonna and Four Saints” over the second altar on the left wall, probably the most famous of the many paintings which almost completely cover the walls of the church. It had been looted by Napoleon when he seized Venice in 1797 and carted off to Paris but was eventually returned. Several of the Chinese start taking photos despite the signs everywhere saying no photos. A docent appears and quietly—there are also signs stating that it is forbidden to talk loudly in the church—tells them to stop.

I head for the right wall, where stretched out on a shelf high on the wall can be seen the body—presumably, hopefully, mummified—of St. Zaccaria, donated to the church almost 1200 years ago by Byzantine Emperor Leo V. On a shelf below is the body of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, donated to the church by Pope Benedict in the 850s in gratitude for the succor he had received from the Benedictine nuns. Two Chinese girls, maybe sixteen years old, come and stand beside me. They gape wide-eyed and fearful at the relics, which could pass for props in some Gothic horror movie, Forget Bellini and the rest of the paintings—famous paintings are a dime a dozen in Venice—this is stuff to tell their girl friends back home about! One surreptitiously snaps a photo with her smart phone.

Further along on the left side is the entrance to two side chapels that have been turned into a museum. Entrance is €1.50 but photography (without flash) is allowed. The first, the Chapel of Saint Athanasius, contains an assortment of paintings, including two by Venetian stalwarts Tintoretto and Palma Giovane. The Tintoretto over the altar is said to be one of his early works and to my untutored eye is not particularly impressive. While I am examining it a woman in maybe her forties and a girl, presumably her daughter, come and stand behind me. The women is sheathed in a luxurious ankle-length fur coat—could it actually be sable?—and has a perfectly coiffured helmet of short blonde hair. Her daughter, maybe fourteen years old, is less elegantly dressed in faded jeans ripped across the knees and thighs and a waist-length coat of mangy, piled purple wool that looks like it may have come from a thrift shop. A huge, unruly mass of russet ringlets surrounds her face and cascades down over her shoulders. She has a ring in her nose and lip and her eyelids are shaded purple, perhaps to match her coat. Her mother leans in and eyes the sign on the painting. “It’s a Tintoretto,” she says. Rolling her eyes, her daughter announces, “If I see one more Tintoretto I-am-going-to-hurl.” I sidle over to a painting of the Madonna and Saints that the sign says was by Palma Vecchio. The most recent guidebooks say, however, that it has been re-attributed to one Marco Basaiti. In any case, the figures are clearly delineated and the colors are crisp and clear, making it in my eye much more attractive than the muddy looking Tintoretto. The mother and daughter move over to view it and I quickly move on. I do not want to be here if the purported Palma Vecchio makes the daughter hurl.
Painting by Palma Vecchio, or perhaps Marco Basaiti
Detail of painting by Palma Vecchio, or perhaps Marco Basaiti
A hallway to the left leads to the Chapel of St. Tarasius. This chapel was the real reason I was visiting the Church of San Zaccaria. I was curious to see if the relics of St. Tarasius had survived. Tarasius (c. 730—806) was born and raised in Constantinople and later the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople of the  Byzantine capital. He was a noted iconodule who believed in the veneration of icons, in staunch opposition to the iconoclasts who had come to power after Byzantine Emperor Leo III had ordered the destruction of many icons back the 720s and 730s. Before accepting the post of Patriarch of Constantinople in 784, Tarasius made the Empress Irene promise that she would restore the veneration of icons, which she did. He was also active in the movement to unite or at least reconcile the Roman and Orthodox churches. For this he was granted sainthood by both branches of the faith. His feast day is celebrated on February 25 by the Eastern Orthodox Church, using to the Julian Calendar, and on March 10 by Roman Catholics, the same day according the Gregorian Calendar.

Tarasius’s rule as a unifier of the two churches resonated strongly in Venice, which throughout the first centuries of its existence had swerved back and forth between allegiance to Constantinople and Rome. It was firmly in the Catholic camp in religious matters, but due to its trade ties with the East it was still inextricably linked with the Orthodox world of the Byzantines. Not for nothing was it known as the westernmost city of the Orient. These bonds, it was thought, would be further strengthened by having the body of Saint Tarasius, the unifier, in Venice where it would be properly venerated. No less, it would attract pilgrims from all over the Catholic world who would drop a lot of cash in the city, pilgrims at the time being the equivalent of today’s tourists.

Some enterprising Venetians merchants and priests in Constantinople soon located the body in a monastery near the city and concocted a plan to steal it. Surreptitiously they moved the remains of Tarasius to an awaiting ship belonging to Domenico Dandolo, who then transported it back to Venice. Dandolo was greeted with hosannahs and the body was transported with great ceremony to the Convent of St Zaccaria. This signaled the rise of the rise to prominence of the Dandolo family, one of whom, Enrico Dandolo, would mastermind the Fourth Crusade and oversee the sack of Constantinople in 1204.

Above the altar is a stupendously ornate gilded altarpiece and perched on the walls on either side are wooden statues of saints Benedict and Zaccaria. But there are no remains of St. Tarasius anywhere to be seen. Could they are inside the altar?
Chapel of St. Tarasius
Magnificent altarpiece in the Chapel of St. Tarasius
Altarpiece in the Chapel of St. Tarasius
The Chapel of St. Tarasius is actually the remodeled apse of one of the earlier versions of the church of San Zaccaria, possibly even the earliest version of the church built in the 800s. A section of the tile floor from the twelve-century church that burned down can still been in front of the altar, and fragments of the floor from the ninth century church have been preserved under glass.
Remains of the mosaic floor from the twelfth century church
Below the Chapel of St. Tarasius is crypt that contains the tombs of eight doges. There is usually several inches of water on the floor. 
Crypt with water on the floor
One of the eight doges’s tombs in the Crypt
Painting of the church and monastery by Francesco Guardi (1790)

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Italy | Venice | San Giorgio Maggiore | St. Stephan

From Greece I wandered north to Venice. Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, I am back at my old haunt, the We Crociferi. This is an old Jesuit monastery that has been remodeled into a hotel. They even stuck me in the same room, top floor, at the end of the hall, the most remote place in the whole immense pile. Apparently I am not cool enough to be mixed in with all the young hipsters who stay here.
We Crociferi on the right (click on photos for enlargements)

After throwing my portmanteau in my room I took the water bus to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.
The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, on an island of the same name  about a third of a mile south of St. Mark’s Square 
Domenico Dandolo, the leader of the Dandolo clan at the beginning of the twelfth century, had at least four sons: Pietro, Vitale, Bono and Enrico. He was the grandfather of the Enrico Dandolo—not to be confused with his uncle Enrico—who masterminded the Fourth Crusade and the 1204 Sack of Constantinople. Vitale oversaw the family’s business in Venice and Pietro became a monk at the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore. Bono managed the family business in the Venetian Quarter of Constantinople, which had been established by the Chrysobull of 1082. Enrico, as we shall soon see, became an important figure in the Church. Signatures of the Dandolos pop up on various documents at this time, attesting the rising status of the family. For example, in June 1107, Domenico and his son Vitale signed as witnesses to a document granting large donations to the Benedictine monastery at San Giorgio Maggiore. Later the year Domenico and his sons Vitale and Pietro served as witnesses to a document transferring ownership of properties in the Venetian Quarter in Constantinople to a church dignitary in the Venetian Lagoon. In February of 1113 Pietro witnessed a thirty-day loan of 130 lire to one Bona Kecii and her daughter Matilda. When the women were unable to pay up he also witnessed the foreclosure and seizure of the property.

Domenico’s son Bono, while managing the family business in the Venetian Quarter of Constantinople, was also involved in the translation of relics, “translation” being the technical term for moving relics from one place to another. Such “translations” were considered furta sacra, sacred theft, because according to Catholic belief at the time, a relic could not be moved unless the spiritual force associated with the relic allowed it to be moved. There were many example of relics which were apparently satisfied with their present location and thus resisted all attempts to move them. If attempts to move, or translate, the relic succeeded, this was prima facie evidence that it wanted to be moved. Thus while it may have appeared that the Venetians were stealing the relic they were actually performing the very pious act of carrying out the wishes of the relic itself. Ultimately, it was God’s Will that the relic in question would end up in the hands of whoever deserved it the most.

In 1107 or thereabouts his brother, the monk Pietro, arrived in the city to take over a post at a church owned by Monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore. In the course of a conversation with a priest at another church nearby the latter let slip that within his church was hidden the body of Saint Stephan, Christianity’s first martyr (I had earlier visited the Church of St. Stephan in Iran). The two went to church and sure enough, the sweet smell often associated with the bodies of saints was soon detected emanating from the altar. They broke into the stone altar and discovered the coffin containing the body of Saint Stephan. Pietro spirited the body back to the Venetian Quarter and placed it in his own church until arrangements could be made to send it back to his monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. 

Meanwhile, word of the theft of the relic leaked out. The Byzantines were furious, but apparently they did not have the legal authority to enter the Venetian Quarter and remove the body from the sanctuary of the Venetian church. They did, however, make stern objections to the relic being sent back to Venice. So the relic remained in Pietro’s church for a year. Finally the Byzantines cooled down and the the matter of the theft was largely forgotten. Arrangements were made to ship the relic back to Venice by boat. Seventy-two Venetians, important men in the Venetian Quarter, escorted the body of Saint Stephan the Protomartyr to Venice. Among them were Bono Dandolo and Orio Dandolo, a relative of Bono’s. The boat arrived back in Venice in July 7, 1109 (or perhaps 1110), where it was met with great ceremony. The Doge himself oversaw the transport of the body to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, where it was placed in the monastery church. For the next six hundred years the acquisition of the relic was celebrated by an annual ceremony. For the Dandolo family the whole affair was yet another feather in their cap. The relics of Saint Tarasius had been brought back to Venice by the first Domenico Dandolo. Now his great-grandsons Pietro and Bono were instrumental in adding Saint Stephan the Protomartyr to Venice’s great collection of Christian relics.

The original monastery and attendant church on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore was destroyed by an earthquake on Christmas Day, 1223. A new monastery was rebuilt and the church itself rebuilt or remodeled at least twice, and then starting in 1560 under went major revisions according to the plans of the great architect Andrea Palladio (1508–1580). Palladio’s neo-classical facade of the church, visible across the waters from the area of the Ducal Palace, is now one of the most iconic sights of Venice, and perhaps just as famous for eliciting one of art historian John Ruskin’s most memorable outpourings of bile: “It is impossible to conceive a design more gross, more barbarous, more childish in conception, more servile in plagiarism, more insipid in result, more contemptible under every point of rational regard.” 

The current status of the relics of St. Stephen supposedly translated here from Constantinople by Bono Dandolo and his compatriots remains somewhat unclear. The relics were presumably present when famous English peregrinator Thomas Coryat visited the church in 1608, two years before the Palladian facade was completed: “I was at the Monastery of the Benedictine Monks called Saint Georges, which is situated on a very delectable Island about half a mile [sic: Coryat did not have the benefit of Google Earth; the distance from the Mol in front of the Piazzetta San Marco to the front of the church is 0.28 miles] Southward from Saint Marks place. It is a passing sumptuous place, and the fairest and richest Monastery without comparison in all Venice . . .” Coryat was told the relics of “Saint Stephen the first Christian Martyr” were “under a goodly Altar of red marble . . . ” but he did to see them himself. He was apparently referring to an altar of red marble still found in the north transept of the church. Above the altar is the painting “Martyrdom of Saint Stephen” attributed  to Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto. No English language signage indicates that St. Stephen’s relics are located here, and no modern-day guidebook I am aware of mentions them. The docent will say only that the “relics may be in the altar.” As is the wont of his tribe, he refuses to elaborate. 

St. Stephan and St. George, the island’s namesake, are memorialized by full-length statues in niches between the columns on the monument facade of the church. On either side of the columns are sarcophagi, topped by busts, of Doge Tribuno Memmo, who along with Orso Dandolo and 133 other prominent citizens of Venice signed to document which established the Benedictine monastery on the island back in the year 982, and Sebastiano Ziani  (r. 1172–1178), who, as you may recall,  brought about the reconciliation of Pope Alexander III (c. 1100–1181) and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (1122–1190) which resulted in the 1177 Treaty of Venice.
Palladian facade of San Giorgio Maggiore
Palladian facade of San Giorgio Maggiore. Ruskin was utterly appalled.
Palladian facade of San Giorgio Maggiore. The sarcophagi, topped by busts, of Doge Tribuno Memmo and Doge Sebastiano Ziani  are to the left and right of the columns.
St. Stephen (left) and St. George (right)
St. Stephen
St. George
Apparently this is Coryat’s “goodly Altar of red marble” which may contain the relics of St. Stephen. Above the altar is the “Martyrdom of Saint Stephen” attributed  to Jacopo Tintoretto and/or his school.
Detail of the “Martyrdom of Saint Stephen”

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Greece | Thessaloniki | Galerius | Rotunda

After three months of semi-occultation in Zaisan Tolgoi, Mongolia, I flew from Ulaanbaatar to Istanbul. The plane left sixteen hours late because of a huge snow storm that hit Ulaanbaatar the night before. I was almost in a wreck on the way to the airport. The roads were horrific; cars were flying around like hockey pucks. Finally at one o’clock in the morning the plane took off. The flight to Istanbul took eleven grueling hours. Oddly enough for this flight, we encountered no turbulence,  not even over the Tian Shan. Because of the Recent Visa Flap I did not go through Immigration in Istanbul, but continued directly on to Athens. As soon as the plane began its descent into the city we hit severe turbulence. For the first time in years I was overcome by motion sickness on an airplane. I would have hurled that there been anything in my stomach to hurl, but there wasn’t. Luckily I had skipped the in-flight breakfast. That would have been really gross.

 I spent the night in Athens at my Favorite Hotel, located literally in the shadow of the Acropolis. The next morning I took the train north to Thessaloniki, where I intend to resume the Role of Flâneur that I was enjoying last summer. I am staying at the same hotel, in fact the exact same room I stayed in on three previous stays in Thessaloniki. The room is on the top floor, at the very end of the hall. It has to be the most remote room in the hotel. I figure the receptionist correctly pegged me as an incorrigible misanthrope who just wanted to be left alone. It is indeed quiet, and having checked in, I move in and out of the hotel like a ghost. The receptionist does not even see me coming or going, or pretends not to. 

From the hotel it is about a twenty minute walk east on Egnatia, the main drag through the city, to the huge monument now generally referred to as the Rotunda. I am particularly eager to see the Rotunda since it was built by the Roman ruler Galerius (c. 260 – c. 311). Galerius first came to my attention when I was in Venice and saw the statue of the Four Tetrarchs embedded in the southeast corner of St. Mark’s Basilica. It was then that I decided I had to further investigate his career in Thessaloniki. 
The Four Tetrarchs, embedded in the wall of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. It is not clear which one is Galerius (click on photos for  enlargements).
The Four Tetrarchs were the four emperors who ruled the Roman Empire from 293 to 313. The emperor Diocletian, sensing that he could not govern the vast Roman Empire by himself, had in 286 appointed his general Maximian as co-emperor, with himself in charge of the eastern part of the empire, and Maximian in charge of the west. Both assumed the title of Augustus. In 293 he delegated even more power by naming two Caesars or junior emperors, each of whom reported to an Augustus. The two Caesars were Galerius and Constantius Chlorus. The four made up a Tetrarchy, or rule by four. The statues of the Tetrarchs has originally stood in the Philadelphion, a square in Constantinople (Istanbul). During the sack of Constantinople in 1204 by the Venetians and Frankish crusaders the statues were seized as war booty and taken to Venice, where they can still be seen today.
The Domains of the Four Tetrarch
Galerius erected several monumental structures in Thessaloniki, including a palace, the ruins of which can still be seen, a huge ceremonial arch, sections of which still exist, and the Rotunda. Construction of the Rotunda began in 306. The round structure is eighty feet in diameter and ninety feet high, with walls almost twenty feet thick. Although damaged by the many earthquakes that have plagued Thessaloniki over the centuries it has never been destroyed. Historians are not quite sure why Galerius built the Rotunda. He certainly did not intend it to be a Christian church, since at the time the Rotunda was built he was violently anti-Christian. He may have intended the building to be used as his mausoleum, but he ended up being interred in Gamzigard, in what is now Serbia. Or he may have intended the structure to be temple to one of the Roman gods; if so, he never said which one. 

After Galerius’s death the building stood empty until 326, when Constantine, founder of Constantinople and defender of Christianity, ordered that it be turned into a church. Some Greek historians have claimed that is the oldest surviving church in the world. This seems unlikely. There are probably older Christian churches in Asia and Africa (the dating of old churches is a contentious issue). It may be the second oldest church in Europe, after the Cathedral of Saint Domnius in Croatia. It is certainly the oldest church in Thessaloniki. In the late fourth century a bema, or sanctuary, was added on the the east side of the building and a propylon and chapels were constructed on the north side. The interior of the dome was decorated with the mosaics for which the Byzantines are famous..

The building continued to be used as a church until Thessaloniki became part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1590 it was converted into a mosque and renamed Mosque of Suleyman Hortaji Effendi. A minaret was added at this time. After the Ottomans were ejected from Thessaloniki in 1912 the structure was reconsecrated as a church. It now serves as a museum, although the East Sanctuary is occasionally used for religious services.

According to an informant in the USA, drone footage of the Rotunda recently appeared, very briefly, in the TV show “The Black List”, starring James Spader. I have not seen the show myself. 
The Rotunda
The Rotunda
The Rotunda and eastern Sanctuary
The Rotunda and eastern Sanctuary
The Rotunda and eastern Sanctuary

Another view of The Rotunda
Interior of the Rotunda
Eastern Sanctuary in the Rotunda
Remnants of  Byzantine mosaics on the dome of the Rotunda