13 November 2021

Byron’s sighs and loves over
three years in a palace on
the Grand Canal in Venice

Byron gave the name ‘the Bridge of Sighs’ to the bridge linking the Doge’s Palace and the prisons in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

I have long associated the poet Lord Byron with Greece and the Greek of War of Independence. But I was reminded in Venice this week that Byron lived in Venice for three years, from 1816 to 1819, after he was forced to leave England due to his debts and following too many sex scandals.

Byron is one of the legends of the city, known for his palace near the Grand Canal, his swimming feats and his notorious love-life while he lived in the Mocenigo Palace, between the Rialto Bridge and Saint Mark’s Square, for three years. I was staying this within walking distance of this palace, in the Hotel San Cassiano in the Ca’ Favretto, in the Santa Croce district, on the Grand Canal.

Byron lived in the Mocenigo Palace with 14 servants, two monkeys, a fox and two mastiff dogs, and there he composed the first songs of Don Juan, although it does not mention the city.

In the Querini Benzon Palace on the Grand Canal, Byron also met his last love, the 18-year-old Teresa Gamba Guiccioli, wife of the rich and much older 60-year-old Alessandro Guiccioli from Ravenna.

Those three years in Venice, which was then a city in sad decline, proved to be a turning point in Byron’s career. Venice became the subject of a number of his poems, including Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and the Ode to Venice, and its history provided the theme for two major dramas.

Byron also composed his social satire, Beppo, regarded by many as one of the wittiest and most amusing works ever written on Venetian life. In Venice, Byron explored the potential of the ottava rima verse formthat would come to embody his poetic voice and all its vices.

While crossing the bridge linking the Doge’s Palace and the prisons, Byron invented the name ‘the Bridge of Sighs’ – a reference to the imagined sighs of condemned prisoners as they caught a glimpse of Venice for the last time – and so made this one of the best-known bridges in the world.

For a time, he lived briefly on the island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni with the small community of Armenian monks. There he learned Armenian and was involved in the publication of an English-Armenian dictionary.

Byron often swam too to the island of Lido to visit the old Jewish Cemetery, the perfect place for his romantic spirit, or to ride his horses.

Gregory Dowling’s guidebook, In Venice and in the Veneto with Lord Byron, visits places in Venice and on the islands of the lagoon that Byron visited and wrote about. He also invites readers to visit a number of places in Veneto associated with Byron, including visiting Verona, Vicenza, Padua, Este, Arquà Petrarca and his villa at La Mira, where he spent the summer months.

Saint Mark’s Square, with Saint Mark’s Basilica and the Campanile (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
168, the Jewish Museum, Venice

A window out onto life in Venice in the Jewish Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in Ireland after this week’s city break in Venice. I spent a few days at the Hotel San Cassiano in the Ca’ Favretto in the Santa Croce district just a few minutes’ walk from Rialto, celebrating some important family birthdays and anniversaries.

Before today gets busy back in the Rectory in Askeaton, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

As part of my reflections and this prayer diary this week, my photographs were from the ghetto in Venice, looking at each of the five historic synagogues in the Ghetto in turn each morning this week.

My photographs this morning (13 November 2021) are from the Jewish Museum of Venice, although it has been temporarily closed since earlier this month (2 November).

The 14th century gravestone of Shemu'el son of Shimshon who died in 1389 in the Jewish Museum of Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Jewish Museum of Venice, which I have visited on previous occasions, is an architectural complex in the Ghetto that includes some of the most important synagogues and ancient Jewish dwellings in Venice, built from the start of the Renaissance. It includes Venice’s oldest synagogue – the German Synagogue, built in 1528 – along with the Canton Synagogue, built in 1532, both included in this prayer diary earlier this week.

The Spanish and Levantine synagogues, which were included too in my prayer diary this week, were also built in the mid-16th century. But they are outside the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo, or ‘New Ghetto,’ a misnomer, as it is actually older than the Ghetto Vecchio or Old Ghetto.

The Jewish Museum of Venice was founded in 1953, in the Campo del Ghetto Nuovo, between the most ancient Venetian synagogues. The displays in the museum tell the stories of the Jewish tradition, still living in Venice.

The museum exhibits a wide selection of ancient books and manuscripts and objects used in the most important moments of the Jewish life. The new exhibition area of the Museum describes the history of the Jews in Venice.

The museum is built in two areas, the first devoted to the cycle of Jewish festivities and to objects used for liturgy, the second – planned with a conscious educational approach – deals with the history of Venetian Jews through images and objects.

The first room of the museum is dedicated to the cycle of the most important Jewish festivities with many ritual objects. including shofar, Channukkioth chandeliers, a Meghillat Ester, a Menorah, and a Seder plate for Pesach or Passover, and Torah crowns and scrolls.

The second room has a rich collection of precious textiles, including Torah mantles, and parokhoth or curtains to cover the doors of Aron haKodesh or Holy Ark, some dating from the early 17th century.

A section of the museum brings visitors on an artistic and cultural journey following the stages of Jewish life in Venice, with a selection of documents and liturgical objects. This section ends with the story of World War II, the Shoah or Holocaust, and the beginning of a new Jewish life in Venice with the reopening of the synagogues on 3 May 1945.

A Megillah or Scrol of Esther in the Jewish Museum in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 18: 1-8 (NRSVA):

1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming”.’ 6 And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

A Torah Scroll in the Jewish Museum, Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (13 November 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for peacemakers around the world. May we seek mediation, reconciliation and friendship in all situations.

‘O earth, cover not my blood’ (Job 16: 18) … words from Job express the cry of victims of the Holocaust (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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

Stolpersteine or stumbling stones (Pietre d’inciampo) in Venice recall victims of the Holocaust (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)