Venice – Giudecca and Sant’Eufemia

I arrived back in Venice last week, travelling from London to Holland, then on to Germany and Austria by train. Still no flights from the UK to Venice. My journey took almost ten days because I helped Rosie, a childhood friend, pack up her house in the South of France, on the way. This involved a 650 kms deviation in the wrong direction and much love and emotion. We packed and sorted twenty five years worth of stuff in 5 days. When it was finished I could continue my journey. So with a mixture of trains, vans, cars and a ferry I eventually made it back to Lido di Venezia, the place I currently call home.

My first full day in Venice was spent sorting myself out, opening up the apartment and doing boring things like laundry and food shopping. Although even food shopping in Venice is fun when you go to the local market, where the stalls back on to the lagoon and the backdrop is San Marco with the snow-capped Italian Alps beyond. My immediate impression was one of tranquility, there are very few people in Venice at the moment, apart from the locals. Here’s what I wrote in my notebook,

La Serenissima is more serene than ever, lightly populated with Venetians, Italians and a light sprinkling of tourists – mostly from Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The city is clean – pristine in fact. The lagoon is salty and a luminous green-blue colour. The Istrian stone of churches and palaces shines white in the afternoon sun. This city has defied nature to exist in its watery liminal anchorage between land and sea for generations. Venice continues to show fortitude and resilience. More than a millenium of human endeavour rising unequivocally from the wetlands where the waters of the Adriatic meet the Alpine rivers of the north. Brava Venezia! Città unica e favolosa….’

My words are perhaps a little pompous and maybe a bit too poetic, but that’s how I felt as I strolled through the streets of Castello. I’d come back to a Venice that was peaceful and a soporific calm descended from my anxious brain into my arteries and then my veins. My breath slowed down, the knots in my stomach loosened and my body began to relax. After days of apprehension at what I was going to find in this vulnerable, historic city, now bereft of the tourist dollars on which it depends, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a reality, that at least on the surface, was so familiar.

I popped into San Zaccaria, the main church in Venice before St Mark’s was built. There’s a painting by Giovanni Bellini that I particularly like here entitled; Madonna, Child and Saints. Mary and the baby Jesus are depicted centre stage, surrounded by the wise and loving figures of Peter, Catherine, Lucy and Jerome. It gives the impression of a family portrait, with hints of Venetian countryside framing the main characters. The painting was completed in 1505, so it’s more than five hundred years old. I find it humbling to remember that this painting has been in position on the north wall of the church for half a millenium. That’s a long time. In fact next year Venice will celebrate 1600 years of existence. So in terms of timescale, my four month enforced stay in London whilst the European governments enforced lockdown measures across the continent is neither here nor there. It’s a rounding error of 120 days in a total of 584,000 days since the original foundation of the City of Venezia.

Bellini's Madonna & Child with Saints (1505) - Church of San Zaccaria, Venezia www.educated-traveller.com
Bellini’s Madonna & Child with Saints (1505) – Church of San Zaccaria, Venezia http://www.educated-traveller.com
San Marco, Bell Tower & Doge’s Palace – designed to intimidate visitors in the days of the Venetian Republic…

I said a little prayer in San Zaccaria and contemplated the colour and beauty of the Bellini painting, then I wandered north to Campo Santa Maria Formosa. The square was filled with Venetians walking their dogs, drinking ‘aperitivi’ and chatting. A group of children were filling their toy buckets from the water fountain in the centre of the square. This scene would have been remarkably similar in 1650 or 1750 or even 1850. A plague is nothing new in Venice, it’s all happened here before, several times in fact. The churches of Santa Maria Salute and the Church of Redentore were both built to celebrate survival from previous epidemics that ravaged the city. The only difference being that in the past, far more Venetian citizens died. The term ‘quarantine’ originated in Venice. As a port city, frequently welcoming ships from all over the Mediterranean and Middle East, it soon became obvious that the ships arriving in the lagoon could sometimes be carrying disease. As early as the 15th century The Republic of Venice set up several quarantine islands known as ‘lazaretto’ where newly arrived vessels were held for a period of up to forty ‘quaranta’ days. You can read more about this in a Quarantine article I wrote in April, 2020.

When Italy went into lockdown in early March, I happened to be visiting my son in London, I thought I was on a 6 day trip, I ended up being away for four months. During that time the City of Venice, led by mayor Luigi Brugnaro, embarked on a massive cleaning programme, where the piazza of San Marco, the campos of the city, numerous alleyways and bridges have all been sanitised and cleaned throughly. The result is a city which has never looked so clean. When I stepped from the ‘Merceria‘ shopping street out into the Piazza San Marco, I was stunned by the brightness of the buildings, sparkling whiteness of the stone facades and the cleanliness of the paving stones. Even the pigeons appeared smarter and their feathers more luminous, although I’m sure I invented that impression for effect. My daughter Lucy phoned me from Germany as I walked into San Marco, she asked me what I thought of Venice. I explained to her quite honestly, that I was completely overwhelmed at the beauty of St Mark’s and had, quite literally, never seen it so pristine, in four decades of visiting. The beauty and elegance of the square brought a tear or two to my eyes.

My Grandma would have proclaimed that you could eat your dinner off those stones!
As the sun went down the quality of the light reflecting from the water and the elegance of San Giorgio Maggiore in the background confirmed Venice’s position as Queen of the Adriatic

The next day was Sunday and I decided a proper mass was called for in Venice. So I hoped on the vaporetto at about 9.00 am and bobbed across the lagoon to the Giudecca. I’d decided that my religious fix would take place at the Church of Sant’Eufemia, one of Venice’s almost 130 churches. It’s a new one for me I’d never been in before. The church itself has 9th century origins, although the classical facade with it’s columned loggia is mostly 18th century. What interested me most about this church, if I’m honest, are the views that you get from inside the building looking back towards Venice. That and the fact that the services are usually conducted by Frati Cappuccini – Cappucin Monks. This monastic order is very modest and humble, they follow the teaching of St Francis and wear brown sackcloth tunics. They also go in for an almost philosophical interpretation of the Bible and Gospels – which I actually quite like.

Sant’Eufemia Church, Giudecca, Venice
Sant’Eufemia – after mass is finished!

After church the rather hot congregation poured onto the fondamenta outside, where the views across the Giudecca Canal towards Salute and San Marco more than made up for an hour in a mask. At least the ‘monouso‘ glove requirement had been dropped – thank goodness. As usual in Italy the church faithful were busy trying to sell homegrown vegetables and bits and pieces to their fellow church goers. I started to stroll towards Il Redentore, the Palladian Church built by the Venetians in the 1580s, out of gratitude for surviving a 16th century plague. I wonder what sort of monument will be built when we feel confident we’ve survived Covid?

Nearby there were several bars, so I had a very good coffee and continued my stroll. Next I was stopped by an elderly gentleman and his younger companion, asking me the way to Cipriani. Anyone who knows Venice knows Cipriani, it is an institution. A truly world class, unique and fabulous hotel, once the private home of the Guinness family and since the 1960s a jet set destination. Of course I knew exactly where it was and directed them appropriately. The old man said to me, ‘You’re not Italian, where are you from?’ I told him I was British and he immediately asked me what I was doing in Venice and if I was a journalist. It transpired that he owned a vineyard near Treviso and was personally visiting the top hotels to try and persuade them to feature his wines in their restaurants. He invited me for lunch the next day, but I politely declined. I’ve only just got to Venice, I thought, I’m not ready to go just yet. However I was very impressed with his tenacity. It’s not easy mastering public transport in Venice and as my Granny used to say, he wasn’t great on his pins. I hope his visit was a success.

View from Giudecca Island to Zattere and the Church of the Gesuati.
View from Giudecca Island to Zattere and the Church of the Gesuati.
Sant’Eufemia – hidden garden filled with flowers and vegetables

I almost forgot to mention the hidden garden behind the Church of Sant’Eufemia. Nestled in a tiny courtyard, was a green verdant paradise, filled with lush plants and a very respectable selection of flowers and vegetables. I spotted courgettes, green beans, tomatoes, sunflowers, roses and a palm tree for good measure. All lovingly tended by a lady who lived at the back of the garden.

I couldn’t finish this article without investigating a little bit further about Sant’Eufemia and how she acquired her saintly status. It turns out she was an intelligent, beautiful, young woman and a Christian (as they all were) and was persecuted by the Romans for her faith. So this must have been before the Edict of Milan (313 AD), when the Emperor Constantine passed a law allowing the people of the Roman Empire to practise Christianity freely. Poor Eufemia was a Christian when it was still a crime, legend says that she was basically fed to the lions in Chalcedon (Asia Minor) not too far from modern Istanbul. Her year of death is thought to be circa. 303 AD. Ten years after her death Christianity was no longer a crime – poor girl. The Feast of Sant’Eufemia is celebrated every year on 16th September. There was also mention of a miracle that took place on 11th July – now that’s coming up soon. I wonder what that was……….

For now though it’s time for me to head back to the Lido, that means a vaporetto or two and a face mask. I delve in my bag, out comes the mask and off I go. Once again my notion that there’s treasure around every corner in Venice has been confirmed.

Here’s the poor, luckless Sant’ Eufemia being mauled by lions in Chalcedon.

Notes:

Happy Reading!

Giulia and Carlo's Wedding - 15th June, 2019 - Venice. Photos: Mirco Toffolo
Giulia & Carlo’s Wedding – June, 2019. Photo: Mirco Toffolo / Venue Cipriani Hotel, Venice.

10 thoughts on “Venice – Giudecca and Sant’Eufemia

  1. A beautiful read, Janet. As indeed are of your writings. I love them. I even remember being mentioned in one a year or two ago. 🙂 What a relief it must be for you to have finally arrived after so long a journey. Keep writing about your adventures. I shall keep reading and enjoying (albeit vicariously) the wonders of Italy. God bless you and keep you safe. Lx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How do you always keep your accounts so fresh – so alive – and so riveting, Janet.? To be able to write about the same topic – your favourite place – so many times without repeating yourself, without ever losing the reader’s interest and without ever being banal or trite, is a real talent, and a Godsend for your readers.
    Keep it up!
    May your pen never run out of ink, your fingers out of keyboard energy, and your constitution out of Valpolicella!
    John

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, Janet, through your story telling I could so feel the emotions of this most special re-encounter with La Sereníssima! I could see, smell, experience your journey as if I were tagging along by your side. Grazie mille for sharing this moment, for the perspective of this period in a history of 1600 years, and for describing the city to entice any visitor to come and see Venice all sparkling clean with blue green canals. I so wish I could come and see it at this time. Your beautiful writing will be the closest I will get for a while…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. HI Janet, I just read this post and enjoyed it – I will continue reading more of your blog. I wanted to say if you decide to plan a “long” 4 -6 week learning vacation would you consider Tuscany or Sicily? The last time I was in Venice it was FILLED with cruise ships so the streets were packed and I really don’t want to go back to Venice if they are going to still allow cruise ships – but if you offer something I will most likely so my best to attend….I like cooking, shopping and wine! OK I look forward to hearing from you. Mary Lou

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mary Lou – so great to hear from you. Actually because of corona virus there are NO cruise ships in Venice and there are very few tourists….it’s a very different experience from before….funnily enough my key areas are: Sicily, Veneto and Venice, Naples & Campania and Basilicata. So I’m open to doing a programme in any of these destinations. You might enjoy an article I wrote about Sicily a few months ago. If you go to my blog and type in Sicily it should pop up. Could you let me have your e-mail address and then I can keep you informed of what’s happening. I think my Sicily trip (currently planned) for October 2021 might be too short for you – although perhaps it will evolve into something more residential. My e-mail is janet@grand-tourist.com

      Like

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