18 November 2021

An afternoon in Burano,
one of the world’s ten
most colourful islands

Burano is feted by many travel writers as one of the 10 most colourful places in the world (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Last week, after visiting the old and new Jewish cemeteries on the Lido, a walk along the long stretch of beach facing the Adriatic Sea, and lunch on the Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta, two of us waited at the vaporetto station at San Nicolò, wondering where in the Lagoon the first water bus might bring us.

We found ourselves spending the afternoon, more by accident than design, on the island of Burano. This was not my first visit to Burano, nor even my second, but when I was last there three years ago, a heavy mist had enveloped the islands in the Lagoon, and there was little opportunity to appreciate then that Burano is feted by many travel writers as one of the 10 most colourful places in the world.

This is certainly the most colourful island in the lagoon, and known for its small, brightly painted houses in the northern Lagoon. It is 7 km from Venice and a 45-minute trip from Saint Mark’s Square by vaporetto.

Local lore says that in the past the fishermen of Burano painted their houses in distinctive colours so they could see them from long distances while they were far away fishing. Today, the colours follow a specific system, and householders need permission for the colours they use in painting their houses.

The five sestieri of Burano are separated by three canals or small rivers, linked by bridges (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Like Venice itself, Burano too is a collection of smaller islands, linked by canals and bridges. These five small islands have a population of about 3,000. Its size means Burano is densely populated, covered almost entirely with residential buildings but with a few small green areas.

Burano is known as ‘the island of lace’ and is home to artists such as the composer Baldassare Galuppi (1706-1785), the sculptor Remigio Barbaro (1911-2005), and the musician and composer Pino Donaggio, who wrote the score the film Don’t Look Now (1973), set in Venice.

The first site most visitors see when they arrive at Burano is Remigio Barbaro’s sculpture, Souaci Gesú, in a park near the vaporetto stop and facing the waterfront. It shows a grieving young woman expressing her pain and despair at the death of her husband at sea. It is inscribed donaci Gesu la tua pace, ‘Jesus give us your peace.’

‘Souaci Gesú,’ a sculpture by Remigio Barbera, is the first images many visitors see in Burano (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Burano was probably first settled by the Romans. In the 6th century, the island was settled by people from Altino. Three stories are told to explain the name of Burano. One says it was founded by the Buriana family; another says the first settlers came from the small island of Buranello, about 8 km to the south; and a third says the name Burano derives from Porta Boreana, the northern door of the city.

Although Burano became a thriving settlement at an early stage, it received none of the privileges of either Murano or Torcello and was administered from Torcello. It gained importance only when the women of Burano began making lace with needles, a skill introduced from Venetian-ruled Cyprus. When Leonardo da Vinci visited Burano in 1481, he bought a cloth for the main altar of the Duomo or cathedral in Milan.

Lace from Burano was exported throughout Europe, but this trade began to decline in the 18th century and the industry did not revive until 1872, when a school of lacemaking opened.

In from the shore, the Piazza Galuppi or Galuppi Square is the centre of the island. The square is named after the composer Baldassare Galuppi, and Remigio Barbaro’s scultpture of Galuppi is at the heart of the square.

The Church of San Martino is known for its leaning campanile (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The square also includes the Museo del Merletto or Lace Museum, the Town Hall, and the Church of San Martino, known for the leaning campanile that can be seen from the lagoon. Inside, the church has a painting by Giambattista Tiepolo (‘The Crucifixion,’ 1727). Beside the church is the tiny Oratorio di Santa Barbara or Santa Barbara’s Chapel.

Burano is divided into five sestieri, much like Venice. They are separated by three canals or small rivers, linked by bridges and correspond to five original islands: San Martino Destro, San Martino Sinistro, San Mauro, Giucecca and Terranova. A sixth sestiere is the neighbouring island of Mazzorbo, linked by a bridge.

Burano is known for its fish dishes, especially is the risotto de gò, made with rice and , a fish typical of the lagoon and known in English as Goby. Many of the fish restaurants maintain the traditions of the old trattoria buranella or taverna of Burano.

But the island also has several pizzerias, shops, bars, and ice cream vendors, as well as pastry shops offering the traditional Burano cookies, including the Bussolà and the Esse.

Sunset at Burano before returning to Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
173, Saint Mary’s Church, Llanfair PG

The Church of Saint Mary in a hollow near Llanfairpwll … the church and its setting inspired the long name of the village (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

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 (18 November 2021) are from Saint Mary’s Church, Llanfair PG.

The sign at James Pringle Weavers shop spells out the English translation of the name and its connection with Saint Mary’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The hymn ‘Hail the day that sees him rise’ is by Charles Wesley and Thomas Cottrill, vicar of Lane End, Staffordshire, and is usually sung to the tune Llanfair. This tune is said to have been written by the Welsh singer and blind composer Robert Williams (1781–1821) of Anglesey. The Llanfair that gives its name to this hymn is Llanfair PG, the village with the longest name on these islands, near the place where Williams was born.

I am sure the editors and typesetters of many hymnals are happy, for the sake of appearances alone, that the tune was written before the longer name of the village was concocted and that it is known by the town’s shorter name.

It is impossible to resist the signs on the road between Holyhead and Beaumaris that invite the visitor to Llanfairpwllgwyngyll or Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll, the village on the island of Anglesey that boasts the longest name in Europe.

The village stands on the Menai Strait next to the Britannia Bridge and across the strait from Bangor.

Most of the 3,000 people in the town speak Welsh as their first language, so they know how to pronounce the name of the place, and they know what it means. But most of them seem to refer it as Llanfairpwll, even as Llanfair PG, rather than Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

The long form of the name was invented for promotional purposes in the 1860s. With 58 characters, it is the longest place name in Europe, and the second longest official one-word place name in the world.

But the story of the village and the church that gives it its name are far longer than the story of the name. People have lived on the site of the village since the Neolithic era (4000 to 2000 BC). Later, the area was briefly invaded and captured by the Romans under Gaius Suetonius Paulinus. The Romans abandoned it to consolidate their forces against Boudicca (Boadicea), but they returned and held the area until the end of Roman Britain.

After the Romans finally withdrew, the area fell to the early mediaeval Kingdom of Gwynedd, but by 1583, the village still only had a population of about 80.

With the end of the feudal system and the introduction of estates in the 16th century, much of the land was absorbed into the estates of the Earls of Uxbridge, who later became the Marquises of Anglesey. The inhabitants became tenant farmers on enclosures, and by the early 19th century, the village population began to boom.

Anglesey was connected to the rest of Wales when the Menai Suspension Bridge was built by Thomas Telford in 1826. It was connected with London in 1850 when the Britannia Bridge was built and the busy North Wales Coast railway line then connected London to the ferry port at Holyhead.

The Upper Village (Pentre Uchaf) is made up mainly of the older houses and farms, and the newer or Lower Village (Pentre Isaf) was built around the railway station, with shops and workshops.

With 58 characters, the long form of the name is the longest place name in the United Kingdom and one of the longest in the world.

For visitors who do not understand what the name means, a large local shop, James Pringle Weavers, has a lengthy sign spelling it out: The Church of Mary (Llanfair) in the Hollow (pwll) of the White Hazel (gwyn gyll) near (go ger) the fierce whirlpool (y chwyrn drobwll) and the church of Tysilio (Llantysilio) by the red cave ([a]g ogo[f] goch).

The railway station is officially known as Llanfairpwll or as Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll (‘Saint Mary’s in the Hollow of the White Hazel Township’). Pwllgwyngyll was the original mediaeval township where the village is today.

But the station house has at least three signs displaying the long name. The platform for trains in the direction of Holyhead even has one long sign for the benefit of non-Welsh speakers and tourists spelling out how to pronounce the name.

This village was originally known as Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll, which appears on Ordnance Survey maps, and is generally signposted as Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. It is known to local residents more simply as Llanfairpwll or even more simply as Llanfair.

The long name was contrived in the 1860s in an attempt to develop the place as a commercial and tourist centre. The original idea was to come up with the longest name for any railway station in Britain.

According to Sir John Morris-Jones, the name was created by a local tailor, whose name he did not confide, letting the secret die with him. Other stories say the name was invented by a cobbler from the nearby village of Menai Bridge.

The village war memorial simply spells the name as Llanfair P.G. – the longer versions would never fit into a slim column. But across the street from the railway station, the name is spelled out in full over the arch at the Penrhos Arms, with another English translation, but remembering to recalling the link with Saint Mary’s Church.

I should have called in to the Penrhos Arms to find out whether they serve shorts in the pub that displays the longest name in Europe.

The name is too long for the slim column on the village war memorial (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 19: 41-44 (NRSVA):

41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’

The long name was contrived in the 1860s to attract tourists

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (18 November 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for school chaplains across the Anglican Communion. May they continue to plant seeds of faith in the hearts of teachers and students.

A sign on the platform at the railway station in Llanfair PG spells out the name in full with helpful hints for English speakers and visitors (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Signs at the railway station spell out the name in full (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 Church of Saint Mary in Llanfair PG (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)