There are many churches in Venice, all hold amazing stories among their walls. All hold secrets never to be uttered between the columns. All are part of a family, they have helped capture a moment in time, a snap shot of a Venice that has long gone. They offer us more than just a chance to reflect on faith, but also a chance to reflect on humanity and what it means to be human.
Santo Stefano is one such place for me, where I can stand and ponder the minds that designed, built, ran and prayed at that spot all those centuries ago. Situated in the San Marco Area of the city, Santo Stefano, in my eyes at least, is one of the most remarkable churches in the city.
Founded in the 13th century under the Order of Saint Augustine, Santo Stefano has been a presence in the city for almost 800 years. It went through rebuilds in the 14th century, along with alterations in the 15th to accommodate a growing population. The red brick walls, accompanied by the exquisite marble portal of Bartolomeo Bon, welcome you into the square, commanding the area, capturing you with its size. Time has warn its face, the winds of the lagoon have done their work. Yet the character that has developed over these centuries, the grace that still stands across the square is a testament to the people that love her, to the genius of her architects and to the city that protects her. Once you pass under the marble and through the doors, you enter a world that seems to have been untouched by histories hand. The patterns on the walls, the designs on the ceiling, all draw you into a space dominated by the past. Everywhere you turn, something new finds your eyes gave, whether its a artwork depicting Christ, the bust of a once famous statesman or the beautiful metalwork that manages to grab that last bit of sunshine getting in from the stain glass window across the hall.
Santo Stefano, like many grand sites across the city, is a guardian to the past. Not only is she a work of art, but she protects the art works of those that trod the cities stone. the Church sports two gallery’s. The first to Art, with masterpieces like ‘The Risen’ and ‘Christ in the garden of Gethsemane’ by Jacopo Tintoretto, along with Bartolomeo Vivorini’s ‘Saint Nicola From Bari’. The second to sculpture, here the living stonework of Tullio Lombardo and Antonio Canova can inspire and shine a light on their past thoughts, fears and desires through their chiseled works. In these galleries, the visitor can glimpse upon the paint strokes that inspired a populations enlightened thinking.
It is clear that this site is more than just a place of faith, it is for all who wish to witness the treasures of the past and get to know the produces of a people engulfed by the movement we have come to know as the renaissance.
A short walk from the Accademia Bridge, its a spot that i would recommend visiting for an afternoon. Even if the idea of architecture and art does not take your fancy, this Campo always has something going on to entertain all who visit.
Santo Stefano is more than brick and mortar, its a site that helps house the passions of old masters and helps educate and inspire the minds of new ones.