A cloister… an image of young friars meditating or leafing through a Bible for hours before dawn. A sensation is a surge of peace and serenity. Venice: a city of canals, bridges, churches and monasteries where we’ll go to wander around, in an itinerary back in time, through cloisters of convents of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Sant’Apollonia, San Francesco della Vigna and San Giorgio on Island.

The church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, that started in mid 13th century and finished 100 years later, is one of the most important city churches constructed of perforated brick and Istrian stone and with splendid decorations in fired brick in the typical Gothic lagoon style. Grandiose building which occupies a vast area including the convent with two cloisters and a complex building which is a head office of that exceptional Archive where all the history of Venice is preserved. Birth of the church is linked to that monastic movement that started in the first half of 13th century and which for a short time saw in our lagoon San Francesco of Assisi. Frari means Friars in Venetian. Under the spur of this presence many young friars went to Veneto and Venice. They lived dedicating their time to re-writing and binding manuscripts in exchange of sustenance. They used to sleep under the arcades of San Silvestro, San Lorenzo and San Mark or got accommodation from the congregation, until they had some land donated by the government where they started to build the convent and their cemetery. They had to do some land reclamation works since this area was marshy and low with a big pond cold “lake Badoer”. It became one of three Franciscan centres in the city together with San Francesco del Deserto and San Francesco della Vigna and afterwards it was instructed by the government that the bell towers of above mentioned churches were to ring bells when the Great Council was to be appointed. Their importance grew in time housing “Schools” and getting rich with sumptuous chapels and doges’ tombs. The model of conventual’s palace of the Franciscans could be a Cistercian monastery: a quadrilateral with a cloister in the centre from which you had access to areas of common parts such as kitchens, refectory, workshops, laboratory etc. In the specific instance of “Frari” two cloisters were built: one “external” called also Trinity or “of the dead” since there were burial places and it was accessible from outside. Next to it there were two rooms reserved for novitiates where youngsters aged 15 and 16 years used to pass their trial year: many documents give evidence of even considerable offers that the parishioners generously gave for these “novice brothers”. On the other hand, the “internal” cloister was dedicated to San Antonio and around it in 1700 zincographic laboratories were set up by the cosmographer of the Republic: father Coronelli. It bordered with a piece of land where the friars cultivated vegetables, fruit trees, sweet-smelling and officinal herbs that were needed for herbal medicine and grocery shops of the convent. There were many rose plants and one famous vineyard compensated for the friars’ needs. In the period of 15th and 16th century, during restoration works, the cloisters underwent some transformations too with columns and rounded arches supporting a balustrade terrace with statues, almost certainly based on a project by Andrea Palladio who, in the same period, looked after the buildings of Convents and Cloisters of San Giorgio Maggiore and Redentore. Two cloisters were supplied with wells placed in the centre and the water for them, in addition to the convent, used to get drawn from people of that area especially in case of necessity. The church is obviously worthy of remarking for other beauties beside the cloisters, Canova’s mausoleum, Titian’s tomb, Carpaccio’s alter-piece, just to mention the main ones.


~ by ferry1984 on June 27, 2011.

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