Why write about cemeteries?
In addition to being an historical, integral and necessary part of an island city that did not have adjacent land areas for that function, long “closed” cemeteries embedded in the urban fabric have left open spaces that give relief to the very dense cityscape as part of larger public plazas (campi, in Venice) or intimate campielle and corte (smaller open spaces not typically central to a neighborhood’s life).
They are part of the endlessly fascinating puzzle that is Venice.
Those who become familiar with Venice learn of the “Cemetery Island”, San Michele, that all visitors to the City pass while traveling to Murano and Burano in the northern Lagoon. Many have shared their photographs of scenes within this vast cemetery, particularly of gravestones of the famous, often non-Venetian, dignitaries entombed there for at least as long as the rent is paid.
San Michele began as a monastery island, “repurposed” in the early 19th Century and later combined with adjacent Isola di San Crisopho, site of a long-demolished monastery, as an “out of the city” final resting place by dictate of the French or Austrian occupation administration. Public health concerns – and perhaps a little real estate speculation or simple fear – led to that decision.
Other large cemeteries exist farther from the City, such as the Catholic and Jewish Cemeteries near San Niccolo de Lido. The “ossary island” at La Cura, within the precincts of the ancient cities of Ammiano and Constanziaco, abandoned by the 15th Century as they sank beneath the waves, is now famous (or infamous) as the resting place for bones disinterred from San Michele when the “rent was up”. Such would each be the subject of lengthy articles to give them their due.
A Necessary Adjunct to Community Life, and Death
During the prior millennium and a half, cemeteries existed adjacent to many parish churches, or associated with monasteries, convents, hospitals and confraternite (scuole). Many have become indiscernible in situ. Some were within the main area of a Campo, with the parish church the heart of neighborhood life. A chapter written by Dario Zanverdiani in “Venezia Citta Mirabile – Guida alla Veduta Prospettica di Jacopo de’Barbari” (Cierre edizioni, Verona, 2009) highlights a few locations and clues to finding them from Barbari’s famous map of 1500.
Today, a few old cemeteries are identifiable by a raised paved area covering the site, the name of an open space, or a street name retaining a clue to their location. These locations include, but are not limited to:
o Campiello Nuovo o dei Morti, separated from the front of Santo Stefano by one narrow row of buildings. Eight steps up – almost four feet – from the connecting streets! Remember – High water table; no digging in the Lagoon! Was this area previously visible from the church as part of a larger Campo or “found space” for a “late-comer” monastery”?
o Campiello dei Morti o del Piovan, alongside San Giacomo dell’Orio, and now the location of several well-known outdoor cafes and a supermarket.
o Somewhere along Calle dei Morti in Sestiere Santa Croce, across the rio from the façade of San Cassan.
o Campiello Sartorio o dei Monti, near the long-demolished San Basegio.
o San Zaccharia: Jeff Cotton’s “The Churches of Venice” site ( http://www.churchesofvenice.co.uk/ ) notes, “The 16th Century cloister to the left of the church was built over the original convent cemetery”, now walled in by a formerly open loggia dividing the main Campo from the cemetery.
o Campo Drio il Cimitero next to Anzolo Rafael.
o Campo San Benedetto in Sestiere di San Marco.
o Cimitero di San Geremia in Cannaregio had fine frontage on the Canale Grande, and is identifiable on Barbari’s “Veduta Prospettica” of 1500, with a loggia for traghetto access and a building for the “Scuola dei Morti”.
o Cimiterio di Convento di San Giobbe, “un’area libera subito a destra del campanile, solo parzialmente delimitate verso la fondamento” per Dario Zanverdiani in “Venezia Citta Mirabile”, page 162.
o Cimiterio del’Carita (now the Accademia) “attorno alle absidi chiuso da un muro” (Barbari’s map & Zanverdiani’s text).
o Servi, “il terreno di fronte alla Scuola dell’Annunziata presenta le suddivsioni per le arche dei confratelli” (Zanverdiani per Barbari map)
o San Zanipolo “mostra gli spazi rivolti a sud, tra le Scuolo di San Pietro Martire e Sant’Orsola fino al Bersaglio” (Zanverdiani per Barbari map).
o Celestia: Again, from Barbari’s map via Zanverdiani, “…c’e un cortile dietro la chiesa che un muro divide dall’orto.”
o Chiesa dei Crociferi: “La presenz di luoghi di sepoltura puo essere ipotizzata nell’amtio di altri monastery, in paricolare quell recinto spogilo che chiudeva a nord, ospitando un’edicola, il sagrato della Chiesa dei Crociferi” (Zanverdiani per Barbari map).
o Mendicoli all’ex Cotonificio Veneziano di Santa Marta.
We Have Limits!
Did cemeteries exist at all of the “raised” open areas of the City? Campo San Trovaso has one, often described as work performed to improve water collection and storage for its pozzo. Campo San Benedetto is similar, and also Campo San Angelo to a lesser degree. Other gardens and cloisters have raised central areas, such as that of Santo Stefano, focused on pozzi and collection systems.
Would one ever find a domestic water collection system and well where there had been a cemetery? Just “relocate” the former residents, and install the utilities? Since that seems very macabre and unsanitary, may we just declare those all “infrastructure improvements” and never a cemetery”?
Never confuse “correlation” with “causality”…Ever!