Thursday, 24 June 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
26, San Geremia, Venice

San Geremia and its great dome seen from the Grand Canal in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

Today (24 June) is the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, and this day is also the 20th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood on 24 June 2001, by Archbishop Walton Empey in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, along with the Revd Tim Close and the Revd Avril Bennett. I plan to celebrate this feast and anniversary later this morning, presiding at the Eucharist in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

My photographs this week are from churches in Venice. This morning (24 June 2021), my photographs are from the Church of San Geremia.

Inside San Geremia, founded in 1000 and rebuilt in 1753 by Carlo Corbellini (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The beautiful Church of San Geremia is just a few minutes’ walk from the Santa Lucia train station and faces onto the Grand Canal, between the Palazzo Labia and the Palazzo Flangini. The church is a popular place of pilgrimage because the body of Saint Lucy of Syracuse is housed there.

The first church was built on this site in the 11th century, and was later rebuilt on several occasions.

The Chiesa di S Geremia e Lucia, or San Geremia as it is known, was founded in the year 1000 by a father and son who built it to house the arm of Saint Bartholomew.

By 1206, the church was housing the body of Saint Magnus of Oderzo, who took refuge in this area from the Lombards and died in 670. The church was rebuilt by the Doge Sebastiano Ziani, and this new church was consecrated in 1292.

The church became the centre of a scandal in 1562 when the priest was accused of heresy and was drowned.

The present church was rebuilt in 1753 to designs by Carlo Corbellini, with an imposing dome. San Geremia is unique in having two similar façades, dating from 1861-1871, one facing the Grand Canal and the other, which is also the entrance, facing San Geremia square.

The brickwork bell tower, best seen from the Grand Canal, probably dates from the 12th century and has two thin Romanesque mullioned windows at the base.

Inside, the altar and the presbytery are notable, with two statues of Saint Peter and Saint Geremia (1798) by Giovanni Ferrari. Behind the altar, a fresco by Agostino Mengozzi Colonna depicts ‘Two Angels upholding the Globe.’ A work by Palma the Younger (‘The Virgin at the Coronation of Venice by Saint Magnus’) decorates another altar. The church also has statues by Giovanni Maria Morlaiter (‘The Madonna of the Rosary’) and Giovanni Marchiori (‘The Immaculate Conception’).

The church is a centre for pilgrimage to the shrine of Santa Lucia di Siracusa or Saint Lucy, a third century martyr from Syracuse in Sicily whose feastday is celebrated on 13 December. She is known to pilgrims as the protector of eyes.

Giorgio Maniace, a Byzantine general who captured Syracuse from the Arabs in 1039, brought her body to Constantinople. But it was stolen by Venetians who sacked Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204.

At first, her body was kept in the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, on the island of the same name opposite Saint Mark’s Square. Boats carrying pilgrims from Syracuse in 1279 capsized in rough seas, and some pilgrims were drowned. It was decided then to transfer her relics to a church in Cannaregio. This church was named Santa Lucia and was rebuilt in the Palladian style by Andrea Palladio in 1580.

Her body was moved to San Geremia in 1861 when Palladio’s church was demolished to make way for the new railway station. The train station is still named Santa Lucia.

The façade of San Geremia facing the Grand Canal has a large inscription: ‘Saint Lucia, Virgin of Siracusa, rests in peace in this church. You inspire a bright future and peace for Italy and the entire World.’

The Patriarch of Venice, Angelo Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII, had a silver mask placed on the saint’s face in 1955 to protect it from dust.

The saint’s body, once stolen in Syracuse in 1039 and again in Constantinople in 1204, was stolen a third time in 1981, this time when two armed criminals forced the main doors, entered the church and smashed the glass of the shrine holding her body.

In their confusion, the thieves left behind her head and the silver mask. They demanded a ransom, but local police retrieved her body in the lagoon area of Montiron and she was returned to the church on her feastday, 13 December. Although she has been in Venice for many centuries, the city of Syracuse where she was born still claims her body.

The façade and the entrance facing San Geremia square (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 1: 57-66, 80 (NRSVA):

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ 61 They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

The shrine of Santa Lucia di Siracusa or Saint Lucy … her body was stolen and held to ransom in 1981 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (24 June 2021, Birth of Saint John the Baptist) invites us to pray:

Let us give thanks for the life and ministry of Saint John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus to enter into our lives.

The Collect of the Day (the Birth of Saint John the Baptist):

Almighty God,
by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born,
and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Saviour,
by the preaching of repentance:
Lead us to repent according to his preaching,
and, after his example, constantly to speak the truth,
boldly to rebuke vice, and patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Inside the Church of San Geremia in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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