Chiesa Santa Maria Formosa

Churches in Venice

Here you get free access to Venice passes the Church of Santa Maria Formosa, the first Christian construction that gave birth to the cult of Mary in Venice.

It does not have imposing dimensions, it develops according to a horizontal sense, lacking the verticality typical of Venetian cult buildings; it is characterized by two facades, one in the field and one on the rio, different from each other in terms of age and styles, witnesses of the stratification of interventions that have seen it as the protagonist.

The present church has absolutely nothing of the original wooden building, built in a mixture of history and legend: built at the behest of San Magno da Oderzo, who said he had a vision of the Virgin Mary asking him to found a temple dedicated to her, but only there where he had seen the first white cloud stop. The cloud stopped on the edge of a large space lapped by the waters of a river, is that today it is one of the largest fields in the city, in a lively and interesting district.

This small temple was given the name of Purification of Mary but was immediately renamed “Formosa”, according to the maternal vision that Saint Magno had had of the Virgin.

From that first building, the history of Santa Maria Formosa was rather troubled, with a succession of buildings and restorations, a victim of fire and neglect, of the earthquake, and the war bombings.

First rebuilt in the 19th century but still in wood, it was destroyed in the year 1000 by a terrible fire. The first time it was built in masonry in 1175, following a plan of a Greek cross plan inspired by the Basilica of San Marco, and flanked by a tall bell tower.

The church arrived in 1400 in a strong state of neglect and degradation, to the point that the Senate of Venice chose to rebuild it from scratch. Mauro Codussi was in charge, who kept what little remained of the ancient building and expanded the planimetric layout: he translated the Greek cross into a Latin cross, obtaining inside a subdivision into three naves, the main one surmounted by a cross vault, and the side ones, in which he made three chapels for each of them, covered by barrel vaults.

But Codussi died and the work stopped. It will be necessary to wait until the first half of the following century and the intercession of a patrician family to complete them.

First, the facade on the Rio was completed, in the Renaissance style, characterized by simple and classic architectural lines that define a central part devoid of any decoration, on which opens the entrance door enclosed between two Ionic columns with a high entablature on which it is placed the funeral monument with a sculpture by Admiral Vincenzo Cappello, to which the façade is dedicated; and two lateral ones, enriched by a high base on which four Corinthian pilasters rise. The composition is masterfully closed by a triangular tympanum with half a central bezel.

The facade on the field was completed in 600 and is therefore in Baroque style: subdivided into two vertical orders, of which the first is pentapartite and the second distinguished only in three partitions. The points of union between the two levels are the Corinthian pillars that set on a high base stand to support the closing tympanum and the two curvilinear wings that sinuously combine the first entablature with the second post the top. The portal is richly decorated with Ionic columns and half-curved gables on which a large central glass rosette is set. The statue of the Virgin Mary on the top of the central tympanum and the other four sculptures depicting the virtues close the facade in a perfect balance of decorations.

The dome and its little dome are the perfect scenic backdrop for this composition which is certainly fascinating but which cannot find the right vertical thrust that an open facade on such a large field would have deserved.

The building thus completed was remodeled again, first after the earthquake of 1624 and then after the damage suffered by the Austrian bombing of World War II in 1916.

The interior of the church is simple and sober: white surfaces that leave the protagonist lines to the lines of the pillars, arches, and large windows in gray stone, which create a pleasant visual continuity in a space thus gathered. Here there are many masterpieces from different eras and artists, such as the Chapel of the Bombardier Schools, which is dominated by a rich baroque altar enriched by the polyptych depicting Saint Barbara and Saints of Palma the Elder; in the Chapel of the Conception of the right aisle the triptych of the Virgin of Mercy by Bartolomeo Vivarini is kept; in the next chapel is instead the marble polycotton of the Madonna in pietà and San Francesco d’Assisi by Palma il Giovane.

In a composition characterized by a rather horizontal trend, to give momentum and balance the volumes is undoubtedly the Bell Tower: rebuilt in 600 by Francesco Zucconi, it is a work of Baroque taste, characterized by the fanciful ashlar decorations that pleasantly accompany the gaze to the belfry, very articulated and structured with its octagonal plan and the abundance of decorative elements, such as baluster balusters and arched gables, which lead to the terminal plume.

“An enormous head, inhuman, monstrous, with a double-sided degradation that is too horrible to define or describe, or contemplated for more than an instant”: this is how John Ruskin defined sculpture as the keystone of the access archway the rio: a popular legend tells that it was there to drive away from the Saracen (as the Venetians called the demon), who enjoyed climbing up to the belfry and playing bells unnecessarily to provoke fuss among the citizens.

One of the most popular festivals in Venice is linked to the Church of Santa Maria Formosa: the Feste delle Marie. Probably dating back to the 9th century when, on the occasion of the Purification of Mary, 12 couples were blessed who would be married within the year and many young girls were drawn among the most beautiful of the poorest families, then entrusted to a rich family that would have cared for her until to lead her to the wedding. In 973, during this rite, the brides were kidnapped by Istrian pirates, but the onset of the population allowed their release. The Venetians believed in the intercession of the Madonna and from that moment the Festa delle Marie was established with a procession that reached the church of Santa Maria Formosa: the twelve chosen girls, embellished with clothes and jewels, in a festive atmosphere that involved the whole city, paraded in a procession of boats on the Grand Canal, because it was considered a good omen. The party lasted for several days and attracted the attention of foreigners, who came to the city for the occasion. With time the meaning and the feast itself degenerate, to the point that it was abolished after only thirty years. Only in a recent period has it been re-proposed and integrated into the Carnival events: twelve Venetian girls parade in parades in period costumes up to Piazza San Marco, where a jury chooses the most beautiful, bearing the title of Maria of the year, in the following Carnival it will represent the angel that flying from the Campanile of San Marco will give the official start to the festivities.

How to get to Church Santa Maria Formosa Chiesa Santa Maria Formosa
by ferry:

from Santa Lucia Station take Line 1 – get to the “Ferrovia E” stop and get off at “San Marco F”; you are in Riva Degli Schiavoni; turn right, walk over the bridge and then take Calle del Vin to the left; proceed straight and then turn right into Corte Nuova Castello; then turn left and immediately right into Campo San Provolo; go along Ponte dei Carmini on the left, proceed straight ahead, then turn right and then left onto Calle Rota; turn right into Calle de la Corona, then left into Ruga Giuffa; proceed straight ahead and at the end of the bridge you will be in Campo Santa Maria Formosa; turn left and then left again: you have arrived, the church is on your left. If you are in Piazzale Roma take the same line but at the “Piazzale Roma C” stop.
from Santa Lucia Station take Line 1 – get to the “Ferrovia E” stop and get off at “Rialto B”:; turn left onto Riva del Ferro and take Salizada Pio; you are in Campo San Bartolomio; in front, take Sotoportego de la Bissa and proceed straight ahead; past the bridge, go down Calle San Antonio and then Salizada San Lio; proceed straight and then turn left into Calle del Mondo Nuovo; after the bridge, you are in Campo Santa Maria Formosa: you have arrived, the church is on your right. If you are in Piazzale Roma take the same line but at the “Piazzale Roma C” stop.
from Santa Lucia Station take Line 2 – get to the “Ferrovia B” stop and get off at “San Marco F”; you are in Riva degli Schiavoni; turn right, walk over the bridge and then take Calle del Vin to the left; proceed straight and then turn right into Corte Nuova Castello; then turn left and immediately right into Campo San Provolo; go along Ponte dei Carmini on the left, proceed straight ahead, then turn right and then left onto Calle Rota; turn right into Calle de la Corona, then left into Ruga Giuffa; proceed straight ahead and at the end of the bridge you will be in Campo Santa Maria Formosa; turn left and then left again: you have arrived, the church is on your left. If you are in Piazzale Roma take the same line but at the “Piazzale Roma F” stop.
from the Santa Lucia Station take Line 2 – reach the “Ferrovia B” stop and get off at “Rialto C”:; turn left into Riva del Ferro and take Salizada Pio; you are in Campo San Bartolomio; in front, take Sotoportego de la Bissa and proceed straight ahead; past the bridge, go down Calle San Antonio and then Salizada San Lio; proceed straight and then turn left into Calle del Mondo Nuovo; past the bridge you are in Campo Santa Maria Formosa; turn around the church almost in a circle: you have arrived, the church is on your left. If you are in Piazzale Roma take the same line but at the “Piazzale Roma F” stop.
on foot: from the Campo della Stazione Santa Lucia go along Fondamenta Santa Lucia and take the left onto Rio Terà Lista di Spagna; after crossing the Ponte delle Guglie, follow Rio Terà San Leonardo, then the bridge and then straight for Rio Terà Maddalena; finally, go along Strada Nova; proceed straight ahead until you reach Campo dei SS. Apostles; after the Campo, keep to the right and go along the bridge and the sotoportego; proceed to Calle Dolfin; turn left and then right, walk over the bridge and then proceed in Salizada San Giovanni Grisostomo; after the bridge, go along Salizada del Fontego dei Tedeschi and then Campo San Bartolomio; on the left take Sotoportego de la Bissa and proceed straight ahead; past the bridge, go down Calle San Antonio and then Salizada San Lio; proceed straight and then turn left into Calle del Mondo Nuovo; past the bridge you are in Campo Santa Maria Formosa; you have arrived, the church is on your left. If you are in Piazzale Roma you reach Campo Della Santa Lucia station using the Ponte della Costituzione.

* When driving through Venice, since the streets and the foundations are very narrow, it is advisable to always keep the right, and let the Venetians and/or those who have to reach the workplace can move easily, without hindrance. It is a sign of respect for such a delicate city.