On This Day - an occasional Venetian calendar with acknowledgements, and thanks, to Robert Booth.April 16th, 1846: Domenico Carlo Maria Dragonetti, composer and double bass player, (‘the first great virtuoso’), composer and friend of Haydn and Beethoven, died at his lodgings in Leicester Square in London aged 83. Dragonetti was born in Venice in 1763, the son of a barber. Already at the age of thirteen, he was appointed principal player at the Opera Buffa in Venice and at fourteen became principal double bass player in the Grand Opera Seria at the San Benedetto theatre. In 1787 he graduated to the Capella of St.Mark's at a salary of 25 ducats, which was raised to a princely 50 ducats after he had resisted repeated attempts by the Tsar to seduce him to St.Petersburg. In 1794 a year's leave to play at the King's Theatre in London proved the beginning of a permanent transfer. For the double bass, he perfected what is now known as the ‘Dragonetti bow.’ Three of his double basses are extant: a famous one by Gasparo da Salò, which he acquired from the Benedictine Nuns of the Convent of San Pietro in Vicenza, is in the museum of St. Mark’s Basilica, another ‘The Giant’ is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the third is in The Royal Collection (Dragonetti bequeathed it to Prince Albert), at Windsor Castle. Dragonetti also owned three violins made by Antonio Stradivarius one of which, now known as ‘the Dragonetti.’ was played by Paganini. He was buried in the Roman Catholic chapel of St. Mary at Moorfields in London. In 1889 his remains were moved to the Catholic cemetery at Wembley. His own music is not now much played, but there is a robust recording of his 'Canadian' Concerto by James Macmillan Pearson.
Dragonetti's Gasparo da Salò double bass
February 17th 1600, Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake in the Campo de' Fiori in Rome. He had been the guest in Venice of one Giovanni Mocenigo, staying in the Ca' Mocenigo Vecchia, the right-hand of the four contiguous Mocenigo palaces on the Grand Canal. It seems that this dim patrician, disappointed that Bruno's teachings failed to give him easy access to the arcane mysteries, unsportingly denounced his guest to the Venetian Inquisition, in a letter accusing him of 'blasphemy, contempt of religion, doubting the divine Trinity and transubstantiation, believing in the eternity of the world and the existence of infinite parallel worlds, practising the magic arts, believing in metempsychosis, denying the virginity of Mary and disbelieving in divine punishment.' – on the whole a remarkably modern cocktail. The Venetians, to their great discredit, permitted his extradition to Rome in 1593, where imprisonment, torture and trial failed to procure a full recantation, and he was handed over to the civil authorities for execution. His ghost is said to haunt the Ca' Mocenigo at this time of year, as well it might.
Giordano Bruno's 19th C statue looking over the Campo de' Fiori
January 27th. Feast of San Giovanni Cristostomo (St John Chrysostom), according to the Eastern rite. Venice was usually more inclined to follow the east in these matters (the Western Church celebrates him on September 13th) – appropriately in this case, as John, though probably born and raised a pagan, and certainly christened as an adult, became Archbishop of Constantinople in 398. Although his soubriquet means 'golden-mouthed' he was given to using that organ to forcefully attack extravagance, notably the empress Aelia Eudoxia's, which resulted in his deposition and banishment, first to the Caucasus, and then to Pitiunt (now in Georgia), on the way to which he died in 407, aged 60. He was popular for his literalist homilies explicating the Bible, but also fulminated against Judaizing Christians (Adversus Judaeos) and is reported to have stated that 'of all the wild beasts none is more dangerous than woman' – a view that may excite some sympathy among those who have seen the fingernails on our Lucy. His church in Venice, near the Teatro Malibran, founded in the 11th century, was destroyed by fire in 1475 and its replacement designed by Codussi – the facade (damaged during an air-raid in February 1918) is similar to, but simpler than, his San Michele in Isola – though he died (in 1504) before seeing it completed. Over the high altar is a portrait of the mouthy St John, in the company of a bevy of fellow saints of both sexes (his views on the fairer notwithstanding), one of the last masterpieces of Sebastiano del Piombo's Venetian period.
December 13th, 1815. Following the Treaty of Vienna, after an exile of eighteen years, the bronze horses of San Marco were returned to Venice from Paris where they had adorned the Arc du Carrousel (on which replicas now prance, with behind them a chariot originally intended to contain Napoleon, in the event piloted instead by 'an allegorical figure').
“In 1815 they were restored to Venice by Francis I of Austria, as the Latin inscription under the archivolt beneath tells. A magnificent festa was organised when they were raised to their old position in the presence of the Austrian. The Piazza was bright with gorgeous decorations; a superb loggia erected for the Imperial family; an amphitheatre for the Venetian nobility. (The Austrian government gave permission to all whose names were in the Golden Book to assume the title of Count.) Nothing was wanting – but an audience. The amphitheatre was empty; a few loungers idled about the square. Cannons were fired; the bells rang a double peal; the music played; the horses were drawn up – but not a cheer followed them. The Emperor and his suite had the show to themselves.”
Thomas Okey 'The Story ofVenice' (Dent, Mediaeval Towns series, 1905)
This was not to be the end of their peregrinations: during the First World War, the horses, along with Verocchio’s statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni, were, for safekeeping, taken to Rome.
13.10.1822 Antonio Canova, internationally renowned neoclassical sculptor, died aged 64. Though born on Venetian territory, at Passagno, near Asolo, and receiving his early training in the Serenissima, apprenticed to the sculptor Giuseppe Bernardi from the age of 11 and frequenting the Accademia Pubblica del Nudo, Canova spent most of his adult artistic life, from the age of 23 onwards, in Rome. For his work in obtaining the restoration to that city of artworks looted by Napoleon, he was created Marquis of Ischia by the pope, and awarded an annual pension of 3000 crowns. He happened also to die in Venice, on his way back to Rome from an annual visit to his birthplace, reinforcing the Venetian claim on his memory. Although he was buried in Possagno, where there is now a Museo Canova and Fondazione Canova (also a Caffè Canova, in the Via Antonio Canova), his heart was retained for a porphyry urn to be placed in the frightful cenotaph in the Frari which he had himself designed for Titian, who was therby spared that incarceration.
September 30th. St Jerome's Day (June 15th in the Eastern Church, but on this occasion Venice went with the West). In the days of the Republic, one of the five dates on which a state banquet was held, “when the newly-elected members of the Council of Ten took their seats, the Doge entertained them with a banquet, and there were great popular rejoicings over an affair in which the people had no interest.” (W.D. Howells 'Venetian Life', 1867)
The other four dates for state banquets are 25th April (St. Mark), 15th June (St. Vitus), 26th December (St. Stephen), and Ascension Day (forty days after Easter).
St Jerome, an early church father (c.347-420 AD) and translator of the Bible into Latin, has always had a good press, mainly due to his noted kindness to lions. Carpaccio's brief sequence in San Giorgio degli Schiavoni in particular 'vaut le detour' and Randall Jarrell's poem is also worth hunting out "Each day brings its toad, each night its dragon..." (there is a whole book on its composition,edited by his widow Mary: 'Jerome, The Biography of a Poem'). The church of San Girolamo in Cannaregio on the other hand has little to recommend it. Suppressed with its adjacent monastery in 1806, it saw service as a steam mill and a glucose factory before being acquired by the Dorothean Sisters in 1930 and reopening for worship, after prolonged restoration, in 1952. Unsurprisingly, given its history, the interior contains nothing of interest and the great blank whitewashed wall flanking the eponymous canal had its most felicitous aspect when a cladding of scaffolding for a recent replastering and painting had it briefly recalling the Centre Pompidou.
On this day, in 1659, the 103rd Doge, Giovanni Pesaro, was gathered to his fathers, following a brief reign of a year and a half. After an early career marked by cowardice and embezzlement he was elected doge after pledging 6000 ducats of his own money to the ongoing Cretan campaign against the Turks (lost in any case under the next doge). His “enormous and repellent tomb” in the Frari “has grotesque details, including a camel, giant negroes, and skeletons, and it was designed by the architect of S.Maria della Salute [Longhena], who ought to have known better.” (E.V.Lucas – A Wanderer in Venice, 1914)
St Jerome introduces the lion to his confrères
September 12th, 1661: The first gondola on the Thames.
Nowadays of course, gondolas are everywhere, from the Isis to Las Vegas, but the first to appear outside the Serenissima were the pair sent as gifts from the Doge Domenico Contarini to the newly re-established Charles II of England, together with four gondoliers kitted out in uniforms of crimson satin. The gaudily decorated craft took to the Thames waters on 12th September 1661 and the Venetian ambassador Francesco Giavarrina reported back to his government as follows:
“It is impossible to express His Majesty’s pleasure or how the gondolas were praised by the King, Court and everyone. His Majesty at once got in with the Duke and Duchess of York and another lady of the Court and also made me enter. Other gentlemen of the palace followed in the second boat. He took a short course on the river before a great crowd assembled to see them, their richness, grace and lightness being generally admired with praises for the gondoliers also. He said many times that he had never seen anything finer or more gallant. He charged me expressly to thank Your Serenity for the present which he valued greatly. It would really seem that the present of Your Serenity stands apart from the many others that have been made by the many other princes. This week he was presented by the States of Holland with a little vessel of great beauty to sail on the Thames, but he is more pleased with the gondolas and he enjoys nothing so much as going on the water.’
July 17th. Saint Marina's day. Not, I think, Saint Marina of Aguas Santas (Marina of Orense), but Margaret of Antioch, whose feast day day falls in fact on July 20th in the Roman calendar. She is honoured instead by the Eastern Church, where she is known as Santa Marina, on July 17th, the Venetians, as so often, following the practice of Byzantium. Margaret/Marina's tribulations included being swallowed by Satan in the guise of a dragon and regurgitated when the cross she wore tickled the beast's innards. It is she, incidentally, rather than the Leaderene, who is the titular saint of St.Margaret's, Westminster. Her eleventh century church in Venice was demolished in 1820 to make way for what Zorzi calls 'brutte case senza carattere'. What happened to the virgin saint herself, who had been under the high altar since 1231 after her removal from Constantinople, I do not know, but Pietro Lombardo's beautiful funerary monument to the Doge Nicolò Marcello had fortunately been transferred to SS. Giovanni & Paolo on the church's closure ten years earlier. During its last decade the nave was for a while a tavern where the waiters could be heard shouting out “A jar to the Madonna, a jar to the Saint!” In more sober times the doge would visit the church in solemn procession on the Saint's Day (Eastern style) to celebrate the retaking of Padua on July 17th, 1509, by Andrea Gritti, from the anti-Venetian coalition of the League of Cambrai.
June 19th 1747: Alessandro Marcello, nobleman, dilettante, mathematician, poet, philosopher and composer, dies in Padua, aged 77. Overshadowed by junior contemporaries Antonio Vivaldi and his own younger brother Benedetto, both of whom he outlived, he was none the less a significant composer in his own right. His output was small and pseudonymous – he published under the name 'Eterio Stinfalico' – but includes a celebrated concerto in D minor for oboe, strings and basso continuo, which was transcribed for hapsichord by J.S. Bach, no less. Perhaps more surprisingly, the piece has proved popular in film-scores, notably in Salerno's 'Anonimo Veneziano' (1970).
Tony Musante & Florinda Bolkan in 'Anonimo Veneziano'
May 26th, 1668: periwigs banned.
In 1665 Count Vinciguerra of Collalto, a descendant of Gaspara Stampa's reluctant paramour, brought the French periwig to Venice for the first time. In France a wig of this sort cost as much as three thousand francs, and the fashion did not readily catch on in in the schei-conscious Serenissima. Eventually the government, being generally opposed to all things new, issued a decree on May 26 1668 'absolutely prohibiting' the periwig and entrusting the enforcement of the law to the Inquisitors of State, “but,” says Pompeo Molmenti, “with the usual inefficient result”.
At almost exactly the same time Charles II was introducing this heavy-duty hairpiece into England. Pepys records his own first purchase of one and his subsequent anxiety about hoisting it on after the plague of 1665: whose hair had it been? Fashion in due course won out over caution: here is a picture of the king himself, gloriously festooned.
April 12th, 1204. Constantinople falls to the Venetian and French forces, led by the blind and ancient Doge Enrico Dandolo, who had cunningly promoted this detour from the Fourth Crusade. This is John Julius Nowich from 'Venice, The Rise to Empire (1977): “It was Constantinople's darkest hour – perhaps even darker than that, two and a half centuries later, which saw the city's final fall to the Ottoman Sultan. But not all its treasures perished. While the Frenchmen and Flemings abandoned themselves in a frenzy of wholesale destruction, the Venetians kept their heads. They knew beauty when they saw it. They too looted and pillaged and plundered – but they did not destroy. Instead all that they could lay their hands on they sent back to Venice – beginning with the four great bronze horses which had dominated the Hippodrome since the days of Constantine and which, after a short period in the Arsenal, now stand above the main door of the Basilica of St Mark.” And of course there are dispersed fragments of loot still set, sometimes quite anomalously, into palace facades all over the city – we all have our favourites.
March 25th: Feast of the the Annunciation – Lady Day, but, more importantly, the traditional day on which Venice was founded, in 421, at midday, supposedly a Friday, as this year. Here is Horatio Brown apropos:
'The Venetian official account always assigned the 25th March 421 as the day on which Venice was born. Such precision is both misleading and futile. But it is based upon a document well known to Venetian historians, the famous commission of the three Consuls who were sent from Padua to superintend the building of a city at Rialto , where they might concentrate the population and the commerce of the lagoon. “On the 25th March, about mid-day, was the foundation stone laid.” There is little doubt that the document, as we have it, is a forgery; though it is highly probable that its substance is true to fact; and it cannot be taken as establishing the date of the foundation of Venice , it is instructive for various reasons. It shows us that the lagoon-islands were inhabited, and that one of them, Rialto , lay on the course of the river Brenta through the estuary, and really commanded the sea-trade of Padua . It further shows that the Paduans wished to establish a commercial centre at Rialto, partly for safety, partly for convenience of traffic; and, finally, it proves that the lagoons around Rialto, the lagoons through which the Brenta passed, were at that time under the control of Padua; a fact which the people of Venice strenuously denied when they became stronger than the Paduans.'
(Venice an Historical Sketch of the Republic, 1893)
March 9th, 1789: Lodovico Manin was elected 120th (and last) Doge, following the death of Doge Paolo Renier on 13th February 1789. On being elected, Manin burst into tears and fainted. When his rival for the Dogeship, Pietro Gradenigo heard of Manin’s election he said, prophetically “I ga fato doxe un furlan! La republica xè morta!” (They have chosen a Doge from Friuli. The Republic is dead.)
'… Manin (the first [Doge] to come from the ‘new’ moneyed nobles, whose forbears had bought their way into the Golden Book), caused so much alarm that even his wife hid herself in Murano and failed to take up the full splendour of her office. His portrait in the Museo Correr shows him looking hesitant and weak, as alarmed by what he has taken on his shoulders as most other people.'
Maurice Rowdon 'The Fall of Venice'
February 2nd: Candlemas / Festa della Purificazione.
In Roman Catholic churches all the candles which will be needed during the coming year are consecrated.
In 492 St. Gelasius changed the Roman Pagan festival the Lupercalia to The Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.
The Festa delle Marie. At Candlemas betrothed couples used to go to Campo San Pietro in Castello to celebrate their marriages in the cathedral there. In the year 944 a gang of pirates from Istria appeared and abducted all the brides. The Venetians, led by the 19th Doge, Pietro Candiano III, chased, caught and killed the pirates, and then brought back the brides. Il ratto delle spose (The abduction of the brides) was, until 1797, remembered at the Festa delle Marie.
'As the rescue was principally due to the “casseleri” or casemakers, who had their establishments at S. Maria Formosa, they requested as a recompense that the doge should visit their parish church in state, every year, on the festival of the Purification. The doge is reported to have said, “And if it rains?” to which they replied: “We will give you hats to cover you.” “And if we are thirsty?” “We will give you to drink.” From this arose the custom, which endured to the fall of the Republic, of presenting the doge on this occasion with two hats made of paper, or gilded straw, and two flasks of Malmsey.
Some people trace the derivation of the word “Marionette” from the fact that not very long after the institution of this festival the twelve living Marie were replaced by wooden ones. The Venetians still call a lean, mawkish woman a “Maria di tola,” or wooden Mary.'
(Hugh Douglas 'Venice on Foot')
The story is also told in verse, in 'Italy' by Samuel Rogers. In his 'Venetian Life' William Dean Howells described this as ‘the poem which everybody pretends to have read.’
December 6th. The Feast of San Nicolò. It sometimes seems that saints are revered in inverse proportion to their deeds. It is not clear that Saint Nicholas ever did much of note, other than slip coins into people's shoes – and who hasn't done that? Nonetheless he's the patron Saint of Aberdeen, Russia, Freiberg, parish clerks, scholars, pawnbrokers, travellers, merchants, Venetian cloth trimmers (cimadori e soppradessadori), little boys, sailors and glass blowers. And of course he's Santa Claus, the ur-Father Christmas. His emblems are three purses of gold, three gold balls or three small boys in a tub, and an anchor. Nicolò was undoubtedly a precocious, not to say precious, child: the first day of his life he stood up in his bath and praised God for his birth.
Although he doesn't seem to have got about much in life, during the reign of Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118) Myra was overtaken by the Islamic invaders, and sailors from Bari in Apulia seized his remains over the objections of the Orthodox monks, and took them home. There is a Venetian legend (preserved in the Morosini Chronicle) that most of the relics were actually taken to Venice (where a great church was built in his honour on the Lido), only an arm being left at Bari. This tradition was overturned in the 1950s when a scientific investigation of the relics in Bari revealed a largely intact skeleton.
San Nicolò da Tolentino is a different saint, but San Nicolò dei Mendicoli in Dorsoduro is his, and there was also a church dedicated to San Nicolò di Bari in Castello which was demolished in 1807 as part of the creation of the Giardini Pubblici.
An inglorious feat of Venetian arms.
“On 26 September 1687, a lieutenant from Lüneburg serving in [the Venetian Captain-General Francesco] Morosini's army found himself with his mortar unit on the summit of a hill called the Mouseion in Athens...
.. It cannot have been a difficult target really. The range was no more than half a mile, and the brilliant Attic air made it seem closer still, and illuminated every detail. On the evening of the 26th the lieutenant got it right. The bang of the mortar, the whine of the projectile over the valley, a distant thump as it burst somewhere in the mass of the temple, and then, a mighty explosion, a cloud of flying debris, a shaking of the ground itself, and when the smoke and the rubble cleared, through a mass of flames the temple of Athene, the loveliest of all the temples the Greeks had ever built, was seen to be a roofless ruin. The whole ammunition store had gone up inside it, killing three hundred Turks, including the commander of the garrison, bringing all resistance precipitously to an end, and scarring the Acropolis for ever.
The German mercenaries it seems, were rather ashamed at what their fellow-countryman had achieved, but the Venetians were apparently not so much distressed. Morosini, so one of his officers wrote, 'fell into an ecstasy' as he gazed upon the ruined Parthenon...”
From: Jan Morris, 'The Venetian Empire, A Sea Voyage' (1980)
And so, after 120 years or so, to Lord Elgin.
Morosini was subsequently (1688-1694) Doge. His embalmed cat is in the Correr.
September 1st, 978. After two years’ successful administration, the rebuilding of the Basilica (at his own expense), and a series of threats against his life, the 23rd Doge Pietro Orseolo had had enough. In the middle of the night, without telling his wife or his son he left Venice :
“... there grew daily in him a desire to withdraw into monastic life. This desire was fostered, and came to a climax when a certain Fra Guarino arrived from Aquitaine. The Doge resolved to quit the world, but feared the opposition of his people. He resolved to escape secretly. On the night of 1st September ... he left his palace, passed the lagoon to Fusina, found horses to Sant’ Ilario, rode rapidly through North Italy, and reached the monastery of S. Michele di Cusano in the (foothills of the) Pyrenees, where twenty-nine years of pius life and religious exercises procured him the honours of canonisation.”
Horatio F, Brown 'Venice an Historical Sketch of the Republic' (1895).
An accusation made against him in the Middle Ages to the effect that he entered the monastery out of remorse for having been an accessory to the murder of his predecessor is probably baseless.
The Abbaye St Michel-de-Cuxa is three kilometres South of Prades in Pyrénées-Rousillon.
July 31st, 1945. Ven. Lonsdale Ragg died in Bath aged 78. He had been British chaplain in Venice 1905-1909 and wrote, with his wife Laura, two worthwhile publicationss on the city, the Venice volume of the attractive A & C Black Colour Book series, (with the wishy-washy watercolour illustrations that embellish those volumes, these by Mortimer Menpes, but the house style is pretty unvariable, though invariably pretty), and a little book 'Things Seen in Venice' (this too one of a popular series, to which Laura on her own contributed 'Things Seen in the Italian Lakes'). Lonsdale, as befitted his cloth, also wrote a number of Christian essays, 'The Book of Books', 'Evidences of Christianity' 'The Gospel of St Barnabas (with Laura), 'The Church of the Apostles'. Nor should we forget 'Dante and his Italy', still less, 'Some of My Tree Friends' (later, 'Trees I Have Met'). He was something of a draughtsman himself and liked to draw trees, though he would have found limited opportunites in the Serenissima. Back home he illustrated 'The Lyrical Woodlands' for Margaret Sackvile, as well as his own amicable tree book.
In the handbiter Rolfe's 'The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole' Ragg appears thinly disguised as Exeter Warden (subsequently Londonderry Bagge).
Third weekend of July, this year July 17th/18th. Festa del Redentore. In 1576, with Venice in the grip of one of the worst plagues in its history, the authorities attempted to bribe God to relent, promising as a quid pro quo for deliverence the construction of a magnificent temple to Christ the Redeemer. A site on the Giudecca was chosen over two others in the city and the 68-year-old Andrea Palladio comissioned to provide alternative round and rectangular plans. Meanwhile more profane and practical measures were also being taken with regard to the quarantining of victims and citizens at risk, which are graphically described in the chapter on the Lazzaretto Nuovo in our 'The Abandoned Islands of the Venetian Lagoon'. Whether through divine or civic intervention Venice eventually emerged on the other side of the plague and the 'Redentore' was duly built (although Palladio, who died in 1580, did not live to see it) and became the focus of an annual pilgrimage by means of a pontoon bridge, originally from near Harry's Bar, latterly from the Zattere, which continues to this day. It is interesting that what has become very much a boating event, with all kinds of colourful craft decked out with picnic tables and Chinese lanterns (very likely these days from China) descending on the Bacino, was in earlier times exactly the opposite, the pontoon bridge offering a rare opportunity to visit the gardens of the Giudecca without having to pay for the passage. Here is an early nineteenth century description of the event from Giusina Renier Michiel's 'Feste Veneziane' (first edition, 1817-27). Her chapter opens grandly “Qual tempio è questo che si maestosamente torreggia?” and she goes on to write, with egalitarian fervour:
“The Feast of the Redeemer continued always to be regarded as a sacred and solemn event and it was the custom every year to repeat the ceremony. But in the course of time there came to be mixed with it something of the profane. The facility offered by this extraordinary bridge for passing over on foot from the other side and exploring the gardens and canal-sides of the Giudecca and enjoying the cool evening air under its pergolas encouraged the populace to extend through the whole night this rare holiday, or as it came to be called by the Venetians, the 'Sagra' (festival) of the Redeemer. Soon you could see the streets, the fondamente and the gardens there thronged, like those of Santa Marta [another area greener then than now] with those mobile kitchens, those simple and gay suppers, where nothing could spoil the most innocent pleasures. It was wonderful to see brigades of artisans, workmen, gondoliers, with their wives and children, mixing freely with groups of fine ladies and gentlemen, lying full-length on the grass, or seated around rudimentary tables. Equal to all the joys and pleasures, equal among all the foodstuffs: roast chicken on that evening the hero of the hour. Everyone shared with genuine satisfaction in an equality which crowned the general delight.”
July 14th, 1902. At 9.55 a.m. The Campanile in St Mark's Square collapsed. Reuter's terse communiqué read as follows
The Campanile of St. Mark’s Cathedral, 98 metres high (about 318 feet), has just fallen down on to the Piazza. It collapsed where it stood, and is now a heap of ruins. The cathedral and the Doge’s Palace are quite safe. Only a corner of the royal palace is damaged. It is believed, but it is not certain, that there has been no loss of life. A cordon of troops is keeping the Piazza clear.
The only casualty was in fact the sacristan's cat, who had refused to leave the building (the disaster had threatened for some days).
This is Horatio Brown's account, from 'In and Around Venice' (1905):
"… by Monday morning early … it was evident that the catastrophe could not be averted. Dust began to pour out of the widening crack, and bricks to fall. A block of Istrian stone crashed down from the bell-chamber, then a column from the same site. At 9.47 the ominous fissure opened, the face of the Campanile towards the church bulged out, the angel on top and the pyramid below it swayed once or twice, and threatened to crush either the Sansovino’s Library or the Basilica of San Marco in their fall, then the whole colossus subsided gently, almost noiselessly, upon itself, as it were in a curtsey, the ruined brick and mortar spread out in a pyramidal heap, a dense column of white powder rose from the Piazza, and the Campanile of San Marco was no more."
Some Venetians claimed that St. Mark’s Square looked better without the tower, and others thought it was foolish to spend taxpayers’ money on a replacement. In the end, donations from outside Venice covered most of the expense, and a rebuilt Campanile was christened on April 25th 1912, exactly 1000 years after the foundations of the original structure had been laid, confirming what the Mayor of Venice had said when the Campanile collapsed, 'com'era, dov'era', as it was, where it was. The very same words were used again in 1996, by the then Mayor Massimo Cacciari, when the Fenice Theatre burned down, com'era, dov'era'.
E così fu.
June 30th. Festa di San Marziale (vulg. S.Marcilian). Martial was one of the seven bishops sent out by the third century Pope Fabian to preach the Gospel to the Gauls, who were sufficiently unappreciative to martyr most of them. The best known of the bunch was Saint Denis (Paris), but although the life and deeds of St. Martial are obscure, the abbey of Limoges which bore his name and housed his remains was one of the splendours of the early Middle Ages, its library second only to that of Cluny. This was utterly destroyed during the rabid (if thoroughly earned) anticlericalism following on the French Revolution, and modern Limoges's Place de la Republique built over it, to emphasise the point. Venice's San Marziale is rather less splendid; the present late 17th century structure, considerably restored in 1958 (replacing an earlier church dating back to the 13th c.), is unremarkable, to say the least, though the iron gratings over the windows onto the Misericordia canal are elegant. The adjacent Ponte S.Marziale was one of the many battlegrounds for the semi-formalised stave (bastoni), later fist (pugni) fights between the Castellani and Nicolotti factions.
June 15th. Festa di San Vio (St Vitus, as in Dance).
On this day, or rather night, 700 years ago in dim and distant 1310, an attempted coup against the Republic was foiled by a combination of treachery, lack of mobile phones, bad weather and a well-aimed mortar (with which an ancient markswoman, Giustina Rossi, felled the rebels' standard-bearer from an upper window). The ringleaders were duly done to death, with the exception of Baiamonte Tiepolo, who escaped abroad into the sort of posthumous charisma enjoyed by Ned Kelly, Robin Hood and other such spitters at the law. He was eventually hunted down by the Venetian Mossad and murdered in Croatia some twenty years later. No doubt Russell Crowe is already limbering up to play him as a revolutionary dog-loving democrat – such at least must be the hope of adoptive veneziana Michelle Lovric, who has taken him to her bosom and tonight leads a waterborne cortège of the Settemari Club's finest to lay mortars on the site of his razed palace at S.Agostin. Bring your own pestle.
June 11th. Feast of San Barnabà.
In the later republic impoverished nobles were (modestly) lodged at the public expense in this parish, and were known consequently as 'barnabotti'. "Too proud to work - and lose their patent of nobility - too stupid to play any part in the Government, they led lives of shabby gentility, preying on the State for lodgings and a small dole which they augmented out of the pockets of tourists." (Hugh Honour - The Companion Guide to Venice). They could also occasionally earn a little extra by selling their Great Council votes.