Venice – Day 1-2: Of Mark and Mud-bugs

This improbable place never ceases to amaze.

St. Mark’s Square, which at about noon today will start to fill up with water.  Raised sidewalks of metal scaffolding will be set up for people to file along.  In this age of selfies, there is rich potential for real delays and splash downs.

Yesterday I went to a couple church’s to arrange Mass times for the group.  Allow to say here that the sacristan at S. Zaccaria sets a new standard for being a total jerk.  Italian sacristans can be extremely …. unhelpful.  Not are they often among the most liturgically (etc.) ignorant of all carbon-based life forms, but they are also the most likely to share their witless and ill-informed opinions.  In any event, the guy at S. Zaccaria is a first class ass.  This is not the first time I’ve tried to deal with him.  Also, some of the group I am with went by the church as the evening Mass was concluding, the minute the priest finished he started turning out lights and shooing with no regard to the people who were still praying etc.  A couple even had to use the lights on their phones to get out without falling.  In any event, the sacristan is world-class oaf.   In fact, reading this inscription in the campo outside the church kept me from saying many things.





That said, the sacristan at S, Moisè was friendly and helpful, as was the fellow at S. Marco after a couple attempts at brushing us of.   Enough about sacristans.

After arranging the Mass for this morning at the altar of the Madonna Nicopeia, I slithered over into the sanctuary to spend time asking St. Mark to take in had a friend who is wondering about a vocation.

Mosaics.   Riveting.  The basilica was pretty much closed when I finished in the sacristy and with my orisons, so I lingered a little and read the Latin and followed the story.

The evening meal brought all of us granceola, a kind of spider-crab salad.   Just about to finish…


A couple folks in the party opted for the lobster with fresh mayonnaise.

I, however, had sarde in soar, one of my favorites in Venice.

Then spaghetti with squid ink.

The aforementioned mud-bug and its accompaniment.

From last night and moving to this morning, we had Mass, as I mentioned, at the altar of the Madonna Nicopeia, dear to the Venetians.  She was – frankly – boosted from Constantinople where once she was carried into battle and because their Lady of Victory.  The Venetians, knowing a good thing when they see it, helped themselves to the icon and used it for the same purposes.  Now she awaits your attention in a chapel inside the side door of the basilica.

The Leonine Prayers after Mass on the Feast of St. Luke.

More later.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mariana2 says:

    Never been to Venice, unfortunately, but have been shood by that kind of sacristan in Florence. Lovely pics!

  2. HighMass says:

    Fr. Z, are my eyes fooling me or are wearing a Rose Colored

  3. Lucas Whittaker says:

    The altar of the Madonna Nicopeia is stunning!

  4. Tony Phillips says:

    Some wise-guy’s clearly hacked into this blog and pretended to post some extremely un-priestly things! But I will say this about Venetians–they’re always more cooperative if you speak to them in Italian. [?!? NO!] Doesn’t have to be the local dialect; standard Florentine-style Italian will do. Trouble is, you get these Americans going over and expecting everyone to speaka de English… [After 17 years in Rome, my Italian’s just fine, thanks. Perhaps you don’t have much experience in sacristies in Italy, especially in setting up to say the traditional Roman Mass.]
    I’m off to Veneto next week–not Venice, which I avoid like the plague, because even this time of year there’s too many tourists–but another place whose name I won’t divulge because I don’t want the TripAdvisor crowd to hear about it. Still has canals and the food’s a lot cheaper too. The musa (donkey stew) is particularly nice.

  5. tgarcia2 says:

    HighMass-red is for St. Luke’s feast

    From a cooperative sacristan :)

  6. DcnJohnSaturus says:

    San Marco, maybe the most beautiful church in Christendom. It always makes me feel like I’ve had a glimpse of what Hagia Sophia was like, before the Moslem conquest.

  7. Andrew says:

    You took a nice picture of the ceiling, Father, which can be enlarged and viewed in great detail. The part of the text that is not upside down on my computer could be deciphered fairly easy once I realized that it is not to be read as a continuous circular text, but as separate narratives arranged in a circle. For example:

    hic pincerna et pistor existentes in carcere vident sopnia (somnia)
    hic ioseph interpretatus est pincerni et pistori sopnia quae viderunt
    hic hysmaelitae vendunt ioseph putiphari, eunucho pharaonis in egypto
    hic eunuchus tradit omnia bona sua in potestatem ioseph

    Also, it helps to have some familiarity with the way Latin texts used to be abbreviated by omitting certain common endings and substituting certain curvy lines instead of them.

  8. jameeka says:

    If one could die of too much Beauty, Venice looks like the place…spectacular photographs, Father Z!

    Thanks, Andrew for the transcription/deciphering.

  9. Melissa Johnson says:

    Beautiful! Thank you, Father!

  10. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    “She was – frankly – boosted from Constantinople where once she was carried into battle and because their Lady of Victory. The Venetians, knowing a good thing when they see it, helped themselves to the icon and used it for the same purposes.”

    I remember a contemporary account of the removal of most of the relics of St. Nicholas from Myra to Bari in which the previous guardians though in tears concluded this was according to the will of the Saint. Are there comparable records where this ikon is concerned?

  11. wanda says:

    Beautiful, especially the pics at the altar. (Can’t say the same for the plate of mud bugs.)

  12. HighMass says:

    tgarcia2 s Thanks

    How well I remember those beautiful Chasuble’s from pre – VII days…The color just seemed rose to me

  13. Uxixu says:

    Why no chalice veil, Father?

    [Let’s see if you can figure that one out on your own.]

  14. Kathleen10 says:

    That’s a pretty big lobster but gee did they have to shoot him?
    The pictures are lovely indeed. Religious eye candy. Thanks Fr. Z.

  15. JGavin says:

    We, as a family, traveled to Italy to celebrate my eldest daughter’s graduation from Holy Cross. We went to the evening Mass in the Basilica. It was the Sunday after Corpus Christi. To my pleasant surprise it was a pontifical mass (ordinary form) for Corpus Christi celebrated by the Patriarch. It ended with a Eucharistic Procession out the main door into St Mark’s Square. My youngest filmed using the Ipad during communion while the choir was singing Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus. he captured the mosaics in the ceiling and around. Breathtaking. I will not forget this, especially the procession out the Main door into the square. I loved Venice. I found the people warm and polite. I hope you get to the Frari as well. They were renovating Santa Maria Della Salute. I hope it was not a wreckovation.


  16. JGavin says:

    Which Restaurant?

  17. Susan M says:

    Beautiful Venice. I went to school there (l’Accademia) when I was 19 – a million years ago – and also the Univ. of Padova. I wasn’t a Catholic then (was a poor terribly lost protestant) but credit St Anthony with starting me on the most incredible journey of my life, and also St Leopold Mandic – another Padova Saint of the Catholic Church. Used to take the Padova-Venezia bus to get to school, then back again. Just a 30 minute ride. Those were the days when one could just walk into the Scrovegni Chapel. No tickets, no nothing. It was open all day. Since I was a protestant I had no idea what I was looking at, but all these years later I thank God for the incredible experience. And the first time I rounded that corner and saw St Mark’s in Venice for the first time I was astounded. I just stood there awed for several minutes, before I could move.

  18. Absit invidia says:

    Squid ink??!! Hope there is some whitening tooth paste handy!

  19. kiwiinamerica says:

    It’s not only the Italians, Father. I’ve come across this attitude in most of the Romance language cultures. Sacristans/priests often have an air of being completely “put upon” and their demeanor is often one of irascibility, impatience and weariness. A little like the way they drive. Maybe they have a lot to put up with.

    I’ve sometimes had the feeling that certain clergy and their assistants would like nothing better than to be completely free of the peasantry.

  20. Phil_NL says:

    Venerator Sti Lot

    That I doubt, very much. Venice obtained a lot of artifacts from Constantinople (including the horses in front of San Marco, by the way) when the 4th Crusade was diverted to Constantinople.

    Venetians, never particularly happy to wage war with business partners, were actually on good (trading and political) terms with the moslim rulers at the time, but on poor terms with the Byzantines (all of that oscillated a lot, switching it least every other decade or so). When the crusaders couldn’t come up with the manpower or money needed, the Venetians struck another deal. Byzantium was by that time not just in schism, but blamed for the failure of several previous crusading attempts, not to mention the fact they laid claim to the holy land. It was a tempting target, and basically the city was plundered. Whatever the local population had to say, it would have been very foul language indeed. Venice got 3/8ths of the spoils.

    One can debate the morality of the whole affair, one can debate whether the 4th crusade ultimately made life easier on the Turks by weakening the Byzantines (that’s debatable as they also did a very good job of that when left to their own devices), but one can be sure of one thing: all those centuries later, it’s great that some of these treasures are still there, in Christian churches.

    You must be having a great trip! Any chance of including Ravenna as well? If you love mosaics, it is truely the place to be (though I reckon you already know that).

  21. tjb says:

    You must have put that squid ink in your spaghetti just like the saints used to mix ash in their food as a penance so it would taste bad. It is really admirable Father but surely you must relax the penances on major feast days no?

  22. david s says:

    Is it possible I remember a fine seafood-laden dinner at the Trattoria alla Madonna back in 1996? The photo of the Rialto bridge, seems to be about the vantage point I remember from that evening long ago.
    On tour with a choir–we sang Monteverdi’s Vespers in the Scuola San Rocco. Wonderful experience!

  23. un-ionized says:

    I’ve written with squid ink (sepia) but not eaten any.

  24. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Ah, squid ink! I’d love to try some fresh s.i. pasta, the ‘ready-made’ I’ve tried was disappointing. I’ve never tried to find a recipe for s.i. sauce, either. A friend did once try to make squid ink ink, but it didn’t work out (that was before internet: maybe I should search for and compare recipes, experiment – things written in sepia look so fine).

  25. Grant M says:

    Thanks for the photos Father, and thanks Andrew for the starter lesson on reading the ceiling. I clicked on the picture and saved the larger resolution version to my tablet and then disabled the auto rotate so I could zoom in and study the image from every angle. It helps to read the story in the Vulgate: Genesis 37, 39 & 40.

    The story continues in the spandrels: one is entirely visible in the photo and depicts the butler being restored to his office. Whenever I read the word Pharaoh I tend to visualize someone resembling Yul Brynner in the Ten Commandments, so it’s interesting to see Pharaoh attired like a 12th C European king.

  26. un-ionized says:

    VSL, Noodler’s Whaleman’s sepia is a true sepia color and is bulletproof as well. Some modern sepias will clog fountain pens, particularly with a fine nib and the natural product will too, it was used with dip pens.

  27. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    Wow, thanks! I’ll keep an eye open – it’d be lovely to try (such a richness, in older modern manuscripts I’ve seen in museums!).

  28. un-ionized says:

    VSL, my source for all things inky fountain peny is Goulet Pens online. Their service and selection are superb and they sell 2 ml samples of every ink that they sell so you can try them without making a 50 ml mistake.

  29. un-ionized says:

    VSL, I neglected to mention that the Platinum Preppy fountain pens with converters are good for people who just want to work with ink colors and are not into the pens themselves. They are about $12 with the converter which allows you to use bottled ink.

  30. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    Thanks again, twice over!

  31. KateD says:

    Oh Father! Too true! I called one church in Genoa and before I could get out the words, ‘Do you speak Engl..?’. Slam! The phone went down. Obviously they were still using an old rotary style. lol Undeterred, I got together what I wanted to say in Italian…’We are pilgrims who would like to view the.,,,SLAM!!!!!’ ‘Is this the church that has the….SLAM!!!!’ It went on like this every few days for almost a year, I tried everything. I began to grow anxious as the departure date was rapidly approaching and then, by some miraculous grace of God, one day the pastor picked up the phone! He spoke perfect English! and was thrilled at our interest in his church and was happy to have our priest say Mass for us there. He even arranged for a local historian, a gal from a well established family, to talk to us. It turned out to be a really cool visit. He set up the altar and after Mass led us into areas and showed us things not seen by many eyes in centuries.

    Personally, I like old curmudgeons, I even married one and have an 8 year old honing his skills for a later date….but not everyone delights in their charming ways. Lol…Luckily we didn’t encounter the sacristan that day, God bless him!

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