Tuesday, 30 June 2009

What to see: The former Cathedral of San Pietro di Castello, Venice

All visitors to Venice will be familiar with the city’s cathedral, St Mark’s Basilica. But this spectacular church has in fact only been the cathedral of Venice for 202 years – its predecessor, the Basilica of San Pietro, can be found at the tip of the island of Castello. The island, formerly called Olivolo, has been inhabited since the fifth century and the first church on the spot was built in the seventh century and dedicated to the saints Serge and Bacchus.
The first church of San Pietro was dedicated in 841 and became the seat of the patriarch of Venice in 1451, meaning that it also became the cathedral of the city of Venice. In 1556 the Patriarch, Vincenzo Diedo, commissioned the great architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) to rebuild the cathedral. Work started the following year. Palladio began with the façade, but work stopped when Diedo died.
It was only in 1621 that the new church was completed by Palladio’s disciple Francesco Girolamo Grapiglia, who followed Palladio’s plans, but made certain changes. The façade, built of Istrian stone, is typically Palladian and reflects the church’s Latin cross shape with three naves. In true Palladian fashion the church also has a large dome. The bell tower is by Mauro Codussi and was built 1482-1488.
The church’s interior is a blend of renaissance and baroque, with Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini’s cycle of St Peter’s life culminating in the apotheosis painted above the high altar. The high altar itself was designed by Baldassare Longhena and executed in 1649. The church has several side chapels; one of them, Capella Vendramin, can be seen in the final photo.
San Pietro di Castello kept its status as the Cathedral of Venice until 1807 when Napoléon I, Emperor of the French and King of Italy, transferred that status to the Basilica of St Mark, which until the fall of the Republic ten years earlier had been simply the chapel of the Doge’s Palace.
In the photos one can also see the Rossall School Chamber Choir, conducted by Margaret E. Young, rehearsing for a concert in the former cathedral last Sunday.

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