Venice – The Matrix Churches

How many church foundings were contained in visions received by Magnus, Bishop of Oderzo and Eraclea?  Many historians and commentators state “eight”; others “twelve”, or maybe “ten”.  What were their names and locations?

There is no certain listing beyond eight churches, complete visions or chronological order during Magnus’s tenure from 630 until his death in 670.  If more than eight, where are the missing church sites or citations of vision-based posthumous founding?

How did the “Matrix” (core) churches relate to Venetian churches and communities that existed before 630?  Did Magnus’s vision intend to fill gaps where earlier communities had not established a church?  Nine “high island” (tomba) communities existed in the Rialtine Islands (the Venetian Archipeleago) by the 5th Century, then thrived and grew by Magnus’s time.  Or, was the vision to establish churches for the then-latest wave of mainlanders fleeing turmoil for new lives and towns, in the Lagoon?

Were the sites all within “Venice”, or were some “in the Lagoon” at other communities within Magnus’s bishopric?  Those included the “relocated” City of Altinum – then reconstituted on the relatively closely spaced islands of Ammiano, Costanzico, Torcello, Burano, Mazzorbo and perhaps Murano  – the “Six Gates of Altinum” in a previous post on “RenaissanceRules”.

The concept of “Matrix Churches” evoked outlandish tales of mysterious cults or conspiracy, yet the term as applied to Venice is of modern provenance, given over one-half a millennium of dust gathered since Magnus boated the Lagoon.  Did the relationship of the sites form a graphic matrix of geometrical precision?  Myths and unproven formulistic theories may best be left unrepeated here.  Perhaps stories will follow…

Let us consider Magnus’s times and the churches known to be founded between 630 and 670 — plus the few founded during the following decades.  After that, a significant gap occurs in Venice’s “church founding history”, possibly related to a gap in significant migration to the islands of the Lagoon.

From Altinum to Eraclea and Into the Lagoon

Magnus arrived in Venice around 638, fleeing Rotari’s Lombard army attack against Oderzo and the hoped-for haven of Eraclea in 638 and 639. Historians believe that Magnus spent time as a hermit in the Lagoon before entering the priesthood, giving him familiarity with island communities long before he became their Bishop in Oderzo in about 630AD. The seat relocated to Eraclea after an earlier incursion of Lombards, with “and Eraclea” appended to the Bishop’s title.  Another wave of invaders destroyed Oderzo and attacked Eraclea in 665-667, causing another migration into the Lagoon.   Centuries after Magnus, Eraclea was abandoned as it sank into the encroaching waters of the Lagoon.

Eight Churches – Maybe

Santi Sergius e Bacchus

The bishop’s seat was relocated to the island of Olivolo, easternmost in the Venetian archipelago, far distant from the main City.  Olivolo is thought by some historians to be one of the earliest areas of habitation in the central Venetian Lagoon, perhaps settled by stragglers fleeing the destruction of Troy under Antenor, leader of the Eneti clan (cited in Pompeo Mulementi’s “Venice: Its Individual Growth from the Earliest Beginnings to the Fall of the Republic”, Part I, Volume I, Venice in the Middle Ages”, thankfully translated by Horatio Brown in 1905).  An early name for the island was Castrum or Castello, perhaps for a castle constructed in close proximity to the major Lagoon entrance from the Adriatic Sea by Antenor or later settlers to protect the City from seaborne marauders.

Magnus’s founding of Ss. Sergius e Bacchus, dedicated to two Byzantine saints and lovers, may have been only the diocesan church or might also have doubled as a parish church for the small Quintavale village.  The church was renamed San Pietro di Castello in 774, when the Bishopric was given independence from the seat at distant Acquiela/Grado by the Pope.  Rededicating to other saints was not an uncommon practice, often done when relics of a “superior” saint had been obtained.  Why did Magnus choose Olivolo, so remote from the City, as a seat?   He is said to have been responding to a vision of oxen and sheep feeding in a meadow ( Stopford Augustus Brooke, “The Sea-charms of Venice”, 1907).  The grassy Campo that remains to this day is said to be a reminder of that meadow.

San Salvatore (in Sestiere San Marco, not far from that end of the Rialto Bridge).  Magnus had a vision of the Savior appearing in or as a red cloud over this site.  The church is believed to have been founded in 638.

Angelo Raffaele (Archangel Raphael) (Sestiere Dorsoduro), believed to have been founded in 640, on an island close to Isola di Irio.  In his wonderful site, “Churches of Venice”, ( ) Jeff Cotton attributes Magnus’s vision here to a large flock of birds.  Anne Atwell’s remarkable site “Churches in Venice” ( )  has a more complex legend concluding with a replacement church fulfilling a posthumous Magnus vision!

Santa Maria Formosa (Sestiere Castello).  Here, Magnus had a vision of a buxom St. Mary under or in a white cloud (“Formosa” translated as “buxom”).  The church is believed to have been founded in around 640 on or on an island close to Isola di Bancaria.

Santa Maria Formosa    (c)2013 R.D.Bosch

Santa Maria Formosa (c)2013 R.D.Bosch

Santa Giustina di Traviso (Sestiere Castello), believed founded in 640 or soon thereafter.  Apparently, the vision received by Magnus called for building a church where he found a fruit laden vine.  This site is very close to San Francisco della Vigne, so perhaps vines were abundant at the northern edge of the archipelago in those days.

San Giovanni Batista di Bragora (Sestiere Castello), again believed founded around 640 on Isola Gemelle or a swampy addition to it, in response to a vision to Magnus from John the Baptist to build two churches – this one and San Zaccharia.

San Zaccharia, (Sestiere Castello), believed founded on Isola di Ombriola soon after 640.  Apparently, Magnus had a vision from John the Baptist to build two churches, this one dedicated to the Baptist’s father, Zaccharia, and the second to the Baptist himself, at San Giovanni Battista in Bragora.

Santi Apostoli (Sestiere Cannaregio) Magnus had a vision of twelve swans signifying the twelve apostles (Ss. Apostoli) flying over this site.  The church is believed to have been founded in about 643.

Perhaps Ten?

We have reached the count of eight churches in our listing.  Chronologically close to that grouping are two more church foundings:

San Lorenzo (now San Niccolo di Mendicolo) (Sestiere Dorsoduro), believed founded on Isola di Mendigola in the latter part of the 600’s.

San Giovanni Battista Decollato (St. John the Baptist Beheaded)(Sestiere Dorsoduro), on an island in the Isola di Luprio group, believed founded in 690 – after the death of Magnus, but perhaps part of his visions?

Of course, that makes ten…

Possibly Twelve?

Another look at the reports of church foundings elsewhere in the Central Lagoon communities provides a few more candidates within Magnus’s Bishopric and tenure:

Santi Maria e Donato on Murano, founded around 635, just before Magnus is believed to have moved into the lagoon via Eraclea, during his tenure as Bishop after 630.

Sta. Maria Assunta - Torcello (c)2013 R.D.Bosch

Sta. Maria Assunta – Torcello (c)2013 R.D.Bosch

Santa Maria Assunta on Torcello, founded about 639, and the earliest seat after Eraclea in the Lagoon, prior to Olivolo.

San Giovanni Evangelista on Torcello, founded around 640, now long destroyed.

Santi Massimo e Marcelliano in Constanziaco, apparently founded in 650.

Santi Sergio e Bacco in Constanziaco, also founded in around 650.

San Marco in Ammiano, on Isola Ammiana, founded sometime in the 600’s.

Sixteen!  We have gone too far! 

There were other “ancient sites” long abandoned and destroyed when later churches were founded (“late” is a relative term, in this case meaning in the 11th and 12th Centuries!).

No other church founding is reported in Venice or nearby island communities until 726, a 36 year gap until the next wave of migrants may have occurred.  Other than any completely “lost” sites, the above listing contains the answer to the riddle of the Matrix Churches of St. Magnus of Venice!  Take one off here, include one there – and you still have eight or ten…or twelve.

Somewhere, deep in the State Archives in the cloisters of the Frari, stored in a musty church Sacristy, but hopefully not lost to tides, fires or thieves, the answer awaits your inquiry.

Please let us know what you find out! 


About randysrules

From a professional background in architecture, community and regional planning, urban design, leadership, and fine arts, this blog provides insights on ethics, leadership, architecture/planning/urban design, Venice, and whatever intrigues me at the time. Enjoy!
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