26 June 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
28, San Michele and Murano, Venice

The Church of San Michele in Isola, designed by Mauro Codussi in 1469, is the first Renaissance church 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).

My photographs this week are from churches in Venice. This morning (26 June 2021), my photographs are from churches on two of the islands in the lagoon: the Chiesa di San Michele in Isola on San Michele and the Church of Santa Maria e San Donato on Murano.

The monastery was suppressed by Napoleon and the monks were expelled from San Michele in 1814 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A vaporetto from the San Zaccaria waterbus station in front of the Doge’s Palace visits some of the tiny islands out in the lagoon, including San Michele, Murano, Mazzorbo, Burano and Torcello.

The lagoon was once the preserve of fishermen and hunters, and the stories of the islands is shrouded in myth and legend. Murano is the island of glassmakers and Burano the island of lace, but other islands were monasteries, used as prisons and gunpowder factories, or served as market gardens or cemeteries.

The first stop is at Cimitero on the island of San Michele, across the water from Fondamente Nuove. The island, with a large number of cypress trees and enclosed within high terracotta walls, was originally the two islets of San Michele and San Cristoforo della Pace.

Hermits of the Camaldolese Order moved onto the island in the 12th century, and founded the Monastery of Saint Michael (S Michele di Murano), which became a centre of learning and printing. The famous cartographer, Fra Mauro, who drew maps that helped European explorers, was a monk of this community.

The landmark building on the island is Chiesa di San Michele in Isola, designed by Mauro Codussi in 1469. This was the first Renaissance church in Venice, and the first church in Venice to be faced in white Istrian stone.

The monastery was suppressed by French forces under Napoleon, in the course of their conquest of the Italian peninsula, and the monks were expelled in 1814. The Napoleonic administration had decreed that burial on the main islands of Venice was unsanitary, and he islands then became Venice’s major cemetery. The canal separating the two islands was filled in between 1837 and 1839, and the larger island became known as San Michele.

Coffins were carried to the island on special funeral gondolas. Those who are buried here include Frederick Rolfe ‘Baron Corvo’ (1860-1913), Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), Ezra Pound (1885-1972) and Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996).

From San Michele, the vaporetto continues to Murano, which is synonymous with Venetian glass. Murano is about 1.5 km north of Venice and measures about 1.5 km across with a population of about 5,000. It is not one island, but a cluster of seven small islands linked by bridges over eight channels.

For a while Murano was the main producer of glass in Europe, and for centuries the glassmakers had a monopoly on high-quality glassmaking, developing or refining many technologies. They benefited from many privileges but were forbidden to leave the Serene Republic as Venice sought to protect the secret of the production of glass and crystal.

Although decline set in during the 18th century, glassmaking remains the island’s main industry. The artisans of Murano continue to employ centuries-old techniques, crafting items from contemporary art glass and glass jewellery to Murano glass chandeliers and wine stoppers.

Most of the churches on Murano were torn down and replaced by housing or glass factories during the Napoleonic and Austrian occupations (1797-1866). Today, only four churches remain, and two are open to visitors.

The Church of Santa Maria e San Donato is known for its 12th-century Byzantine mosaic pavement and said to house the bones of the dragon slain by Saint Donatus in the fourth century. The Church of San Pietro Martire includes the chapel of the Ballarin family built in 1506 and artworks by Giovanni Bellini.

On Bressagio street, a few meters from the main lighthouse and the island pier, the Oratorio ex Ospizio Briati is the chapel of a former convent of the Discalced Carmelites.

For a time, this was the Briati Hospice, built by the master of Murano glass, Giuseppe Briati (1686-1772), to house the widows of glassmakers.

The Discalced Carmelites of Venice were given permission in 1736 to build a convent for Carmelite nuns on the site of the palazzo of the Marcelo family. They received financial assistance from other prominent families, including the Contarini and Giustiniani families.

A year later, the nuns moved to the convent from the monastery in Conegliano. Later, the Augustinians restored the oratory, and it served as a parish church at a time when the Basilica of San Donato was still closed.

The Oratorio ex Ospizio Briati is the chapel of a former Carmelite convent on Murano (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 8: 5-17 (NRSVA):

5 When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him 6 and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying at home paralysed, in terrible distress.’ 7And he said to him, ‘I will come and cure him.’ 8 The centurion answered, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go”, and he goes, and to another, “Come”, and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this”, and the slave does it.’ 10 When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 13And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.’ And the servant was healed in that hour.

14 When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; 15 he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were possessed by demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.’

Murano is not one island, but a cluster of seven small islands linked by bridges over eight channels (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (26 June 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the descendants of immigrants living here, as they continue to face many of the injustices their forebears faced decades ago. May we work for a fairer, more inclusive society.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Souaci GesĂș,’ a sculpture by Remigio Barbera on the island of Burano (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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