Monday, December 16, 2013

 Venice's magnificent basilica cathedral church is a Blending architectural styles of East and West.

The Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, northern Italy. It is the most famous of the city's churches and one of the best known examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. It lies at the eastern end of the Piazza San Marco, adjacent and connected to the Doge's Palace. Originally it was the chapel of the Doge, and has only been the city's cathedral since 1807, when it became the seat of the Patriarch of Venice, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, formerly at San Pietro di Castello. For its opulent design, gold ground mosaics, and its status as a symbol of Venetian wealth and power, from the 11th century on the building has been known by the nickname Chiesa d'Oro (Church of gold).

Rev: "Not to be missed - ignore the ongoing improvement works - see it for what it is - an amazing piece of architecture - just going inside & out on to the roof gives you such a feeling of calmness & serenity! Don't worry about bare shoulders - they sell disposable shawls so no one need miss out!"
The first St Mark's was a building next to the Doge's Palace, ordered by the doge in 828, when Venetian merchants stole the supposed relics of Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria, and completed by 832; from the same century dates the first St Mark's Campanile (bell tower). The church was burned in a rebellion in 976, when the populace locked Pietro IV Candiano inside to kill him, and restored or rebuilt in 978. Nothing certain is known of the form of these early churches. From perhaps 1073 the present basilica was constructed. The consecration is variously recorded as being in 1084-5, 1093 (the date most often taken), 1102 and 1117, probably reflecting a series of consecrations of different parts. In 1094 the body supposed that of Saint Mark was rediscovered in a pillar by Vitale Faliero, doge at the time. The building also incorporates a low tower (now housing St Mark’s Treasure), believed by some to have been part of the original Doge's Palace.

Rev: "Unfortunately some of the outside of the Basillica is currently covered with scaffolding for restoration but the inside is incredibly beautiful. Sadly there were many rude and disrespectful visitors taking photos inside despite the many signs that say no photos."
The Pala d'Oro ordered from Constantinople was installed on the high altar in 1105. In 1106 the church, and especially its mosaics, were damaged by a serious fire in that part of the city; it is not entirely clear whether any surviving mosaics in the interior predate this, though there is some 11th-century work surviving in the main porch.

The main features of the present structure were all in place by then, except for the narthex or porch, and the facade. The basic shape of the church has a mixture of Italian and Byzantine features, notably "the treatment of the eastern arm as the termination of a basilican building with main apse and two side chapels rather than as an equal arm of a truly centralized structure".

Rev: "We weren't able to go inside this beautiful Basilica but we were able to enjoy the amazing architecture, mosaics, and gold overlay from outside. Truly eclectic in its creation."
In the first half of the 13th century the narthex and the new façade were constructed, most of the mosaics were completed and the domes were covered with second much higher domes of lead-covered wood in order to blend in with the Gothic architecture of the redesigned Doge's Palace.

The exterior of the west facade of the basilica is divided in three registers: lower, upper, and domes. In the lower register of the façade, five round-arched portals, enveloped by polychrome marble columns, open into the narthex through bronze-fashioned doors. The upper level of mosaics in the lunettes of the lateral ogee arches has scenes from the Life of Christ (all post-Renaissance replacements) culminating in a 19th-century replacement Last Judgment lower down over the main portal that replaced a damaged one with the same subject (during the centuries many mosaics had to be replaced inside and outside the basilica, but subjects were rarely changed).

Rev: "The basilica is absolutely impressive, the walls and ceilings covered with mosaics. You have to pay 2 Euros to see the Pala dÒro, but it is worth the money, and you can see the Apsis as well."
Rev: "As St Mark's Basilica was closed for mass service on Sunday morning when we were there, we decided to visit the museum on the second floor which was open. The entrance is directly beside the church main door (on the right) - look for the signboard that says 'Museum/Loggia'. You will need to walk up a flight of stairs to reach the ticket counter of the museum. There is also a small bookstore there. There was no que when we were there. For the price of 5 Euros per person to enter the museum, we could see up close the gold coloured ceiling & domes of the church, the interior of the church (only at certain angle), some paintings & artifacts and not forgetting the main reason why we were there - to see the ORIGINAL gold horses of St Mark's Basilica. Really amazing to see the Original gold & green coloured horses up close. (The ones on top of the church are copies of the real horses which are housed inside the 2nd floor museum). The museum ticket also granted us access to the 2nd floor balcony area of the church, overlooking St Mark's Square. Nice view of St Mark's square from above. We spent half an hour to an hour here. We later returned to view the church interior around 1 or 2 pm when the church doors were opened to the public on Sunday."
Mosaics with scenes showing the history of the relics of Saint Mark fill the lunettes of the lateral portals; the first on the left is the only one on the façade still surviving from the 13th century. The formal subject is the Deposition of the Relics, but it is probably depicted as the crowd leaving San Marco after the ceremonial installation of a new doge. The four bronze horses are shown in their place on the facade. We can for once get a good idea of the original compositions of the mosaics from paintings and other depictions, especially Gentile Bellini's very large Procession in Piazza San Marco in the Gallerie dell'Accademia. The stone sculpture is relatively limited at the lower level, where a forest of columns and patterned marble slabs are the main emphases. It includes relatively narrow bands of Romanesque work on the portals, richly carved borders of foliage mixed with figures to the ogee arches and other elements, and large shallow relief saints between the arches.

Rev: "We are not Catholic but made the effort to attend the 7:00am mass on a Sunday morning. Very pleased we did too. While I didn't understand a single word, just to be a part of a church service in such a magnificent building was worth braving the cold for. The interior of the church is more impressive than the exterior....we'll worth a visit."
Along the roofline, by contrast, there is a line of statues, many in their own small pavilions, culminating in Saint Mark flanked by six angels in the centre, above a large guilded winged lion (his symbol, and that of Venice). In the upper register, from the top of ogee arches, statues of Theological and Cardinal Virtues, four Warrior Saints, Constantine, Demetrius, George, Theodosius and St Mark watch over the city. Above the large central window of the façade, under St Mark, the Winged Lion (his symbol) holds the book quoting “Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus” (Peace to you Mark my evangelist) . In the centre of the balcony the famous bronze horses face the square. The interior is based on a Greek cross, with each arm divided into three naves with a dome of its own as well as the main dome above the crossing. The dome above the crossing and the western dome are bigger than the other three. This is based on Constantine's Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. The marble floor (12th century, but underwent many restorations) is entirely tessellated in geometric patterns and animal designs.

Rev: "The church is right on the square and is absolutely stunning in terms of architecture. If you visit it during the high tourist season, expect long waits to get inside. Spend time just admiring the exterior."


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