15 November 2021

Was Giudecca the first home
of the Jews of Venice? If not,
what does its name mean?

Evening closes in on the waterfront of Giudecca below the steps of Il Redentore (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Giudecca has been described by some people as the ‘real Venice.’ This island in the Lagoon is immediately south of the central islands of Venice, and the Palladian church of Redentore is its best-known landmark, clearly visible from San Marco. The church and island of San Giorgio Maggiore lie off its eastern tip.

Although Giudecca is part of the sestiere of Dorsoduro, it is separated from the rest of Venice by the Giudecca Canal.

Just as dusk was about to enfold Venice and the Lagoon one evening, I walked from Accademia on the Grand Canal to Zattere and crossed the Giudecca Canal on a three-minute vaporetto journey to Palanca, in search of the meaning of the name Giudecca, and to find out whether this truly was the first home of Jews in Venice.

In ancient times, the island was as Spinalunga (‘Long Thorn’), similar to the name of the island of Spinalonga, Europe’s last leper colony off the coast of Crete.

In the Venetian dialect, the name of Giudecca is Zueca. But, is the name Giudecca a corruption of the Latin Judaica (‘Judaean’), meaning ‘the Jewry’?

In southern Italy and Sicily, many towns had Jewish quarters that were known as Giudecca or Judeca, where Jewish families lived, and where synagogues were located. Unlike the compulsory ghettos of Northern Italy, Jewish families voluntarily chose to live in certain areas, but they were free to travel and join their neighbours in commercial, cultural and artistic life.

A few giudecce in Sicily were unhealthy and declined, but the population of the majority included many craftsmen, doctors and tradesmen.

In the narrow alleys and laneways of Giudecca (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Dante used the word Giudecca in his Inferno for the innermost zone of the ninth and final circle of hell, where Judas (Giuda) is confined. Dante shares the prevailing prejudice against Jews and Judaism of the Middle Ages. But did he know of Giudecca in Venice, and did he think it had a Jewish population?

However, it seems the term ‘Giudecca’ was never used in northern Italy to denote the Jewish quarters of towns.

Jews were living in Venice long before they were confined to the original Ghetto in Cannaregio, on the north side of the city, in the 1500s. But there is no documentary evidence that these earlier Jews in Venice lived in Giudecca.

The Senate of Venice reached an agreement with Jewish lenders in Mestre in 1385 about lending to the poorer people of the city. A year later, in 1386, the Senate granted the Jews of Venice an isolated area of the Lido as a Jewish cemetery. I had visited the Jewish cemeteries on Lido last week, and so Jewish families were living in Venice from the mid-14th century.

A century and a half later, on 29 March 1516, the Venetian Senate decreed all the Jews of Venice should live into a ‘New Ghetto.’ It was Europe’s first attempt to confine Jews to a single enclosed place in any city.

Indeed, apart from its name, it seems there is no historical, documentary evidence that Jews ever lived in Giudecca.

Giudecca started life as a fishing village and is Venice without the plastic trinkets, touts and the bustle of tourists (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

It seems Giudecca started life as a fishing village around the year 500 CE.Today, linguists tend to agree that the name of Giudecca in Venice comes from Zudega, a word in the Venetian dialect that means ‘judged,’ and that it was home to many banished families, not just Jewish ones.

It is said that some families, accused of conspiracy against the Venetian Republic, were sent into internal exile on the island of Spinalunga, and that the name Giudecca comes from the term del giudacato (‘judged’), which became Zudega in the Venetian dialect and was transformed into Judecha, Zuecca, Giudaica and, finally, Giudecca.

Giudecca was historically an area of large palaces with gardens. Michelangelo fled to Giudecca from Florence in 1529. By the time he arrived there, the aristocratic Dandolo, Mocenigo and Vendramin families had transformed the island from a prison into a neighbourhood of garden villas.

After the plague wiped out 30 per cent of the population in the late 16th century, the Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore (Church of the Most Holy Redeemer), designed by Andrea Palladio, was built by the survivors in gratitude on the waterfront in 1577. It dominates the skyline of this part of venice, and its walls and side chapels are rich with works by Paolo Veronese, Jacopo Tintoretto and Francesco Bassano.

Il Redentore, designed by Andrea Palladio and built in 1577, seen on the crossing from Zattere (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

When the nobles headed inland in the 18th century to build villas along the Riviera Brenta, Giudecca’s gardens gave way to factories, tenements and military barracks.

, The island became an industrial area in the early 20th century with shipyards, factories and a film studio. Much of the industry went into decline after World War II, but Giudecca is now once more regarded as a quiet residential area that includes working-class housing, fashionable apartments and exclusive houses.

In recent years, many of the older buildings in Giudecca have been renovated, and a prominent 16th-century mansion has been converted into long-term rentals under the name ‘Villa F,’ with long-term rentals.

The Molino Stucky, a former flour mill, has been converted into a luxury hotel and apartment complex, and the five-star Cipriani hotel has large private gardens and salt-water pool.

We walked along the long shoreline from Palanca to Il Redentore as dusk enveloped the island. Giudecca is Venice without the plastic trinkets, touts and the bustle of tourists.

We visited Paladio’s masterpiece and watched the waters of the canal lapping against the shoreline before returning on another vaporetto to Zattere, and stopping at the bridge at Accademia for evening drinks.

Strolling along the long shoreline from Palanca to Il Redentore as dusk envelops the island of Giudecca (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
170, Saint Deiniol’s Cathedral, Bangor

Saint Deiniol’s Cathedral, Bangor … the diocese covers much of North Wales (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This looks like a busy day, with meetings later today of both the Church of Ireland Inter-Faith Working Group and the Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue, followed by a meeting of the Standing Committee tomorrow.

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.

My theme on this prayer diary for the rest of this week is cathedrals and churches in Wales. As part of my reflections and this prayer diary this morning, my photographs today (15 November 2021) are of Saint Deiniol’s Cathedral, Bangor.

The high altar and sanctuary in Bangor Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Diocese of Bangor includes the island of Anglesey, as well as most of Caernarfonshire and Merionethshire, and a small part of Montgomeryshire. Originally, this was the diocese in the Welsh Kingdom of Gwynedd, and tradition says it was founded around 546 by Saint Deiniol.

Saint Deiniol’s Cathedral has been a place of worship since the sixth century. The site of the cathedral was originally the home of Saint Deiniol’s monastery, built around 525 on land given to him by the King of Gwynedd, Maelgwn Gwynedd. Saint Deiniol is said to have been consecrated a bishop by Saint David, making him the first Bishop of Bangor. However, the monastery was sacked in 634 and again in 1073, so that nothing remains of the original building.

The Synod of Westminster in 1102 took measures to restore Bangor Cathedral, but the earliest part of the present building was built when Bishop David was bishop (1120-1139). He received financial support from the King of Gwynedd, Gruffudd ap Cynan, who was buried by the high altar when he died in 1137. This 12th century cathedral was cruciform in shape in the Norman style, and about 130 ft in length. King Gruffudd’s son, Owain Gwynedd, was also buried here, as was his brother, Cadwaladr.

Giraldus Cambrensis describes the liturgy here in 1188 when the Archbishop of Canterbury celebrated Mass. But the cathedral was destroyed again in 1211, this time by the army of King John of England during a raid into Gwynedd. Later in the 13th century, the original apse was removed and the choir was extended to its present length.

When King Edward I of England invaded Gwynedd in 1282, The church was badly damaged. Two years later, in 1284, the Dean and Chapter of Bangor were given £60 as compensation for the damage. During this period, extensive rebuilding was carried out under the first Bishop Anian, and the transepts and crossing were rebuilt, while the nave was rebuilt in the late 14th century.

The cathedral was said to have been burnt to the ground in 1402 during the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr, but there is no contemporary evidence for this.

Extensive rebuilding was carried out from the end of the 15th century. The present arcade and clerestory were built from 1510 on and were completed in 1532. A Latin inscription over the tower doorway records that Bishop Thomas Skevington built the tower in 1532, although it was not complete when Skevington died in 1533.

Rowland Meyrick, the second son of Meyric ap Llewelyn, was the first Bishop of Bangor following the Reformation (1559-1566). He was buried in the cathedral, but his monument has long disappeared.

Some restoration work was carried out on the cathedral in the 18th century, £2,000 was spent on repairs in 1824, and the interior was altered and refitted in 1825 at a cost of a further £3,252.

The building as we see it today is the result of extensive work carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott, beginning in 1868. Scott’s design originally called for a high central tower and spire. However, this was never completed after cracks appeared, raising fears about the subsidence of the foundations, and the tower was left as a low structure.

£11,000 was spent on the restoration of the nave, chapter house and central tower in 1879.

The stump of Scott’s central tower was finished off in 1966-1967, with battlements, a pyramidical cap and a tall weather cock. Major restoration of the outside stonework and roofs began in 1987 and continues.

Bangor Cathedral can boast of a rich and varied library. Its greatest treasure is Bishop Anian’s Pontifical, which dates from the early 14th century. It is written on vellum with illustrations inlaid with gold leaf and bordered in blue, green and black.

A pontifical is a book containing the texts of liturgical ceremonies performed by the bishop, such as ordinations, benedictions, confirmations and the consecration of churches. The Pontifical of Anian included all these and almost all that was necessary for a bishop’s public duties, as well as the appropriate music.

The Bangor Pontifical survived the ravages of war, and although it was lost after Owain Glyndŵr’s rebellion in 1402, it was returned to Bangor Cathedral by Bishop Ednam in 1485. After the injunctions in the reign of King Edward VI ordering the destruction of Roman service books, the Pontifical may have found a safe and private hiding place thanks to Bishop Rowland Meyrick (1559–1566), until it was presented to the cathedral by Bishop Humphrey Humphreys in 1701. Bishop Humphreys was a patron of Welsh literature, genealogical research and of the then newly-formed Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK).

During World War II, the Bangor Pontifical was moved for safekeeping with other treasures to the tunnels beneath the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth. It was finally returned in 1946, and is now kept in the Library of the University of Wales Bangor.

The Bible Garden in the grounds of the cathedral is said to be planted with an example of every plant mentioned in the Bible.

One of the major pieces of work in the cathedral is the ‘Mostyn Christ,’ a figure of the Pensive Christ carved in oak and thought to date from ca 1450. It depicts Christ before his crucifixion, chained seated on a rock and wearing the crown of thorns. The Mostyn Christ reflects the meaning of the Passion through the intense depiction of human suffering and the symbolic inclusion of a skull at the feet of Christ.

The Mostyn Christ is on loan to the cathedral from the Mostyn Estates, which manages the interests of the Mostyn family across North Wales and elsewhere, including commercial, residential and agricultural holdings in Llandudno and agricultural estates in Rhewl and Tremostyn, Flintshire.

This wooden carving is an iconic religious representation surviving from 15th century Wales and its origins have been the subject of debate, with suggestions including Maenan Abbey, Gwydir Chapel, Rhuddlan Friary and the chapel in the home of the Catholic Pue family in Penrhyn. It is possible that it was rescued by the Mostyn family sometime during the Reformation. By the early 19th century, it was owned by the Mostyn family who lived at Gloddaith Hall, where the early chapel was decorated throughout with Catholic iconography. The branch of the Mostyn family that lived at Talacre and Basingwerk was renowned for its allegiance to the ‘Old Faith’.

The Bishop of Bangor, the Right Revd Andrew John, was consecrated in 2008 and enthroned in 2009. The Very Revd Kathy Louise Jones, who was Dean of Bangor from 2016, retired earlier this year (27 June 2021) to take up a new role of Family Support Leader to Katharine House Hospice in Stafford.

A Latin inscription over the tower doorway records that Bishop Skevington built the tower in 1532 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 18: 35-43 (NRSVA):

35 As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ 38 Then he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 39 Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 40 Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, 41 ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’ 42 Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.’ 43 Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.

Inside Bangor Cathedral, looking towards the west door (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (15 November 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for Saint Hugh’s High School in the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. May students and staff at the school feel transformed by God’s love for them.

The pyramidical cap on the tower finishes off Scott’s restoration work (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Mostyn Christ, dating from 1450, is one of the principal treasures in Bangor Cathedral (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

The chapter and choir stalls in Bangor Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)