Venice Day 7 – Of Anniversaries and Victories

Today I said Mass in the Basilica of San Marco.

Yesterday I had met in the calle a small group, a family, from London who had a couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. They wanted to know where they could have their rings, bought for the occasion, blessed. I suggested they join us for Mass the next day (that is today, as I write). I blessed their rings and harangued for a bit. They were pretty pleased. It was a memorable moment. This also demonstrates how small the world is: the man had a shop in Dean Street, near St Patrick’s on Soho Square where I have stayed when visiting.  He has promised me free haircuts when I am in London.

Anyway, the icon of the Virgin Nicopeia, carried on a ship during the Battle of Lepanto.



San Marco is glorious.



Some of you will know what this is!


The back of the main altar with the tomb of the Evangelist.


They turned on some lights for us!  As I am pretty much live blogging this, here is a big image from my iPhone.


I just had to give you the “Big Picture”.

Really.  There is nothing like San Marco.  You simply can’t grasp it until you have actually seen it.

And the Venetian sacristans are as cordial as the Roman sacristans are nasty.

I remember my first visit to Venice.  It was replete with truly incredible stories, especially because I was with a priest friend who is old Sicilian nobility and who knew everyone who is anyone here.  I digress.

We went to San Marco in the evening to say our Masses.  The Basilica was pretty much closed, but they let us in.  I had the altar of the Nicopeia.  What we did not expect, is that there was a rehearsal to go on of music by Gabrielli.  Various elements of musicians were stationed in the lofts around the church and they created what I can only describe as a tornado of sacred sound.   What a blessing I had to stand in that place after Mass, alone with my friend, in the center of San Marco, with all the lights turned on, listening to the holy whirlwind of music.

So… you don’t care about that.  You want to know what I ate today.

Spaghetti with squid ink.  It is so delicate.  Truly.  The flavor is amazingly delicate.


Ooops… out of order.   Little tastes of sea food critters.  Sardine in saor, Granseola, Schie.


This, friends, is what Pinot Grigio is supposed to look like.  Organic, small batch, un filtered… you get the true sense of the grey grape.  None of your insipid pinot grigio gulping wine, this.  This grabs you by the… earlobe and gets your attention.

Note the color.


On the way back through the Piazza of San Marco, a band was playing as the water was rising.  The walk ways were not out yet, however.

The sound of these great little combos in the square reminds me of the days when I did actually still dance.


Finally, because of La Boheme last night, I have been craving some absinthe.

Night cap.



And now to my email, my office, and my pillow.

This will give you a sense of the music I heard that day, which would have been in 1993.

Were I the Patriarch of Venice, this would be it, folks.  And Venice would explode as a place of religious pilgrimage as well as touristic.  But as you watch, imagine them – not in concert in front of everyone – but hidden in high lofts around the place.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. TopSully says:

    They sure knew how to build a church back then.

  2. Father, what liturgical rite is San Marco – Roman? It’s constructed in the Byzantine style, right down to the lovely iconostasis.

    Topsully, the Eastern Catholic Churches still build ’em like this, not on as grand a scale, but in precisely this style, with icons, some statuary, and traditional architecture in sanctuary, nave, and narthex.

  3. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    To enter San Marco is to enter Paradise — when the lights are on. Weekdays the lights are turned on around 11:30 and stay on for an hour. A Paradise in this world has electric bills as well, as any pastor can tell you. On Sunday the lights are on all day.

    The Pala d’Oro is great fun and appeals to all age groups. It’s fun just to stand in front of it and watch children’s faces when they come around the corner and behold it.

    San Marco’s Ordinary Form Mass, the Solemn, is well done. At the Sanctus the bells in the Campanile out in the piazza are rung until the Consecration — a mysterious affect, as is the choir, which cannot be seen, up in balcony to the right side. Much music was composed just for this church.

    If you’re in Venice, consider attending Solemn Vespers, about 5:30 on Sunday. At the end, there is a procession, which the laity join, chanting the litany of Loretto in Latin (bring your copy!) in a haunting chant. The procession goes from the High Altar to the North Transept, where the Virgin Nicopeia is kept, the Palladium of Venice.

  4. haskovez says:

    My wife and I attended Palm Sunday Mass in 2010 at that Basilica. It was an amazing Mass. We were really impressed with the whole thing.

  5. acardnal says:

    The last photo (on the bottom) is gorgeous!

    I visited Venice in the early 1970’s.

  6. optimist says:

    In January 1975, my wife and I attended Mass, which was said by the Cardinal Archbishop, who gave a lengthy homily on something (not being fluent in Italian, we had no idea). Three years later we were astounded when he was elected as John Paul I.

  7. mamajen says:

    The church didn’t look like much to me in the initial photos, but with the lights on…wow! That must be a stunning space to experience in person. Must get to Italy someday.

  8. Stephen McMullen says:

    Sweet Mary and Joseph! This looks just like the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis, Mo. If you are ever in town, you have GOT to see it. It is the largest collection of mosaics in the world outside te Vatican.

  9. wanda says:

    Gorgeous. Thank you, Fr. Z.

  10. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    JonathanCatholic, the style is indeed Byzantine. You can see where the ikonostasis once was.

    One January I had an bizarre experience at Holy Mass, the Solemn. We came to the Gloria. I was expecting something like Old Roman Chant given the Byzantine character of the church. What we got as a Gloria from — Gounod! Not bad, full of chocolate richness of the late 19th C. But in a Byzantine Church?

    At the cathedral of Chartres, at the High Altar, there is a Baroque Immaculate Conception. A fine work, but what’s it doing in perhaps the finest example of French Gothic?

    Church’s in Rome often are a mix of different style, just like your Grandmother’s attic. The plus is to see that Christians for centuries have worshiped here, and left their mark.

  11. jfk03 says:

    The West should never forget that the Theotokos Nikopea was stolen by the Venetians during the sack of Constantinople in 1205. This sad even has not been forgotten by the Greeks!

  12. NBW says:

    he photos are beautiful; especially the last one.

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Venice was a sort of colony of the Byzantine Empire for a long time. Then it broke off and became a Republic. All its quarrels with Constantinople were family quarrels, and more vicious for that.

    So the Venetians would say that they raided and sacked Constantinople as revenge for the unjust blinding of one of their people (something that happened a lot in Constantinople, because blind people couldn’t hold any Byzantine public office or become emperor). So the blind Venetian guy led the expedition, because that’s how Venice rolls (and got the crusader-types from elsewhere in Europe to do the hard work, because that’s also how Venice used to roll).

    It probably had a lot more to do with trade grievances; and of course the bit where the Venetians and Crusaders were asked to help a claimant become emperor, and then got stiffed; and the way medieval armies were anxious to prove that either you surrendered against a siege or you didn’t get offered quarter. Plus the bit where the Byzantines acted like the Empire in the West was still being run by them. And the bits where Byzantine diplomacy was (on purpose, there’s contemporary books about it) all about baffling the barbarians with BS, and Europe was the barbarians.

    So yes, it was a very bad thing to have happened, and it pretty much sealed the fate of both East and West, not to mention the Holy Land. But it didn’t happen out of the blue, and it was just one sacking out of millions that happened East and West, done by Christians to Christians. I don’t think the Greeks spend a lot of time angsting about the wrongs of the Bulgars and the treachery of the emperors, or the relics and treasures that imperial armies plundered from further east. But apparently we’re destined to hear about Constantinople until the end of time, and have everybody in the West tagged with the deeds of a small band of raiders from 800 years ago.

  14. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I will add that of course the sack of Rome was very traumatic, but nobody goes to webpages demanding that Goths give back the treasure. Admittedly that’s a difficult ethnicity to find these days, much less kick around, but I’m sure there’s some Spanish webpage all about Visigodo pride. :)

  15. FranzJosf says:

    Not to be forgotten, in addition to the stupendous visual beauty, is the aural beauty which the acoustic of the room can produce. I had the the privilege to conduct a very good choir, during Mass, in music of Palestrina and Jakob Handl (in a the motet “Duo Seraphim” which was composed in the Venetian polychoral style). The acoustical properties permit a choir of around 25 to gently fill the room with sound, without ever having to “over-sing” so that a choir can achieve surprisingly intimate sounds as well as glorious climaxes without every forcing the voice. In the many places I’ve experienced in the U.S. and Europe, there is no where else quite like it. (Of course, musicians have appreciated that fact for centuries.)

  16. Winfield says:

    I haven’t been there in 35 years but still recall how stunning it is. And I can’t help but think of all that was lost in 1453.

  17. cjp says:

    The fourth photo down….are those the tassels from long past cardinal’s riding hats?

  18. thanks for sharing Father. After the thread on the Sarah Palin comment and the dark realm of politics it’s nice to read about the good in the world. Beautiful. Love the images.

  19. Supertradmum says:

    The Catholic world is both very small and very beautiful. Thanks for sharing, Fr. Z.

  20. Sieber says:

    I remember my only visit to San Marco.
    I wandered around & came upon a group of richly robed clerics saying Vespers. They were later identified to me as Canons of the basilica. I particularly noticed a hefty cleric deep in prayer. Due to his appearance he just stood out.
    The year was 1957. A year later I recognized that it had been the Patriarch, Angelo Roncalli.

  21. Uxixu says:

    This is my favorite set of photos father. Such a beautiful church. I have to attend Mass in such a setting one of these days.

  22. Uxixu says:

    Does bring to mind Lepanto, as well. More people, especially Catholics, need to put the current jihad issues in a broader context they belong in, especially WRT the Crusades not as the mendacious painting of western imperialism as it’s broadly painted today but as an attempt to assist our Eastern brethren (that the Enemy twisted it from that objective down the road is also unfortunately a part of, of course).

  23. Federico says:

    FRZ: “Really. There is nothing like San Marco. You simply can’t grasp it until you have actually seen it.”

    Maybe not like it. But if you like mosaics you owe it to yourself to visit the Cathedral of Monreale; I have seen both and I will assert Monreale is every bit (if not more) glorious.

    Whilst you’re in the neighborhood visit the adjacent cloister, then the Palatine Chapel in the Norman Palace, the Cathedral of Palermo, the church of the Martorana, and a short drive to see the mosaics in Corfù too.

    Then, having seen it all, you will say “those are pearls that were my eyes.”

  24. Volanges says:

    Our trip to Europe last summer was planned to include Sunday Masses at San Marco & at Notre Dame in Paris. Both were wonderful experiences and we quite enjoyed touring the churches after Mass.

  25. Andreas says:

    There exist a number of wonderful recordings documenting the wealth of glorious music for San Marco composed by Giovanni Gabrieli and his uncle, Andrea (as well as other composers of note). While they sadly cannot convey the very moving, almost ‘visceral’ beauty experienced when hearing such poly-choral works in-situ at San Marco, one can at least appreciate the fullness of grandeur as voices and instrumentalists fill the Dom from above. As a start, might I recommend the splendid series of recordings made some years ago by the Gregg Smith Singers, Texas Boy’s Choir, Tarr Brass Ensemble and Gabrieli Consort (Vittorio Negri, Dir.).

  26. Montenegro says:

    Thank you for posting the pics of San Marco. I have yet to visit Venice – would love to go. Thank you also for the info on pinot grigio. I drank it only once – in the late 1980s on a date in NYC – and vowed never to drink the stuff again. Just awful. Happy to know that what I drank – and likely most of what is sold in the Anglosphere – is simply bad pinot grigio. The plonk shown in your pic is one I’d like to try. Grazie and buon appetito!

  27. Mariana2 says:

    “the Theotokos Nikopea was stolen by the Venetians during the sack of Constantinople in 1205”

    Yes, but she, and the bronze horses, and what not, are safe in Venice now, and haven’t perished as loads of other stuff have.

  28. Mariana2 says:

    Suburbanbanshee says:

    “….Goths….Admittedly that’s a difficult ethnicity to find these days, much less kick around, but I’m sure there’s some Spanish webpage all about Visigodo pride. :)

    If anyone finds webpages like that, do let me know!

  29. pj_houston says:

    They wouldn’t let me take photos inside San Marco, I remember being chewed out for trying. They’ll shoot you for trying to take pictures over in the Doge’s Palace Sala del Maggior Consiglio.

  30. tramtrist says:

    Father.. I have been to San Marco and ever since the hanging candle holding cross (4th picture from the top) has haunted me.. What is its name!?

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