Looking for the Hidden Jewels of Venice: the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli  

Perfection in simplicity... During a guided tour of Venice, away from the most crowded and touristic areas, we can discover small buildings, sculptures, stones, decorations, bas-reliefs that are part of the unknown artistic heritage of the city.
This is the case, for example, of the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (The Holy Mary of Miracles), in the Cannaregio district.

The Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli

The Legend

As it happens quite often in Venice, at the origins of the construction of this church there is a legend.
In 1408 the Amadi family from Tuscany placed close to Corte Nova, where they lived, an image of the Holy Mary with Baby Christ. One day a woman, stabbed by a broker of the Germans’ Warehouse for family reasons, ran up to this image, prayed the Virgin Mary to be saved and was healed.
In the next few years more miraculous healings took place: the blind could see, the cripple could walk.
As the years passed by, more and more pilgrims would walk up to that image and pray, so it was eventually decided to protect the image inside a wooden chapel. In 1480 the Council of Ten decided to promote officially the cult of this image, and ordered all the Scuole Grandi (i.e. the great confraternities with humanitarian purposes) to join the solemn ceremony that was held in that occasion.
One year later the Amadi commissioned a bigger votive church to the architect and sculptor Pietro Lombardo, so that more pilgrims could come and pray in front of the holy icon.

The Miraculous Image

The Church

In 1481 the Franciscan Pope Sisto IV gave permission to build a church that had to be consecrated to the Immaculate Conception.
The church was finished in 1489 and the result is a unique architectural jewel. It is one of the highest examples of Renaissance art in a city still dominated by the Gothic tradition.

The Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli
It was entirely built by one single architect, Pietro Lombardo, with the aid of the stonemasons of his workshop.
It is rectangular in shape, covered by a barrel vault, and looks perfectly inserted between the alley and the canal, to such an extent that it seems to emerge from the waters. Amazing polychrome marbles decorate both the external and the internal walls, thus creating a perfectly harmonic structure. The poet Ezra Pound used to refer to this church as to a jewel box, and John Ruskin wrote that it was the most interesting and refined example of Byzantine Renaissance art in Venice, and in general one of the most relevant in Italy in the 1500’s.

The lateral façade of the church along the canal

Polychrome marbles
On top of the curved tympanum of the façade we can admire three statues: God the Father is represented in the middle, and at the sides there stand two angels. On top of the door we can see a small sculpture of the Virgin Mary with Baby Jesus.

God the Father

Virgin Mary with Baby Christ
At the sides of the entrance portal we find two circular bas-reliefs, one with St. Francis, the other with St. Clair holding the model of the church itself.

St. Clair with the model of the church
It is definitely not a large building, and nonetheless it strikes the viewers with its astonishing beauty, its different colourful marbles with precious grain, its rose windows, its columns of different styles with floral motifs.

Deatil of the façade

We almost end up feeling that this church has emerged naturally in this place, in total symbiosis with the Lagoon.
The interior surprises visitors with its coffered ceiling, its choir balcony, for the altar placed very high at the top of a staircase… we would love to show you this casket full of treasures during a guided tour. We’ll be waiting for you! Ciao!

The coffered ceiling

You might be also interested in the following tourr and blogposts: 

First time in Venice. (section: Classical tours

Getting lost in Venice?  (section: Classical tours

A walk through the Cannaregio district. (section: Unusual tours

Venice and its hidden treasures: Antonio da Negroponte's altarpiece. (section: Blog)

A hidden jewel in Venice: the Agnusdio house. (section: Blog)

Our guided and private tours of Venice. (section: Blog

Our walking tours in the hidden Venice: the district of Cannaregio  (section: Blog