This is the blog of Steve Burkett of Italy, Our Italy

Go There: The Church of St Zachariah

Here is a church in Venice that houses saints and a plethora of famous art

The Church of Saint Zachariah (or Saint Zechariah, or San Zaccaria) is one of the very old churches of Venice. It dates from the 800s, but that original church has been built anew a couple of times. The present form took about 60 years to complete in 1515. 



Here you can see the facade of this large church.


As you enter the church, you are assaulted by a cacophony of artwork.

View of Saint Zachariah from the entrance door

The church is named after Saint Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist. Zachariah can be seen within the church, resting high on one of its art-adorned walls. In the photo at left, his body rests in the top crypt, held aloft by angels. 

The body of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria can be seen in the lower crypt.


The crypt of St Athanasius

Here is a more detailed photo showing the crypt of St Athanasius. I tried to climb up to get a better photo of Zachariah, but alas, the church officials didn't cooperate.


You may remember that Zachariah was approached by the Angel Gabriel and told that he and his wife, Elizabeth, were to have a child, whom they were to name John. When Zachariah suggested that he and Elizabeth were too old, and that he must be mistaken, Gabriel struck him speechless until the blessed event of John's birth came about. When John was older, he became known as John the Baptizer, and it was he that baptized Christ, Himself.

A side altar with the bodies of St Zachariah and St Athanasius

The artworks within the church are many and profound. Those who created the art are a who's who of artists of the time and include: Vecchio, Tintoretto, Porta, Vassilacchi, van Dyck, Celesti, Zanchi, Balestra, Trevisani, and Tiepolo.

But the most famous of all the paintings was created by Giovanni Bellini. 


While in his mid 70s and still very much the artist of his time, Belinni painted the church's most famous artwork, Madonna Enthroned with Child and Saints, which you can see here. 

Madonna Enthroned with Child and Saints...and a Musician 

This painting was executed in 1505. One source suggests that this is "Bellini's first work in which the influence of Giorgione is undeniable, starting the last phase in the artist's career, a tonalist one." If you understand that, use the comment box to enlighten the rest of us, please.

OK, I'm going to give you an insight into my artistic ignorance. I know I am supposed to really, reallty like the Bellini, above (which I do think is swell), but my favorite is the altar and dome at the front of the church. I am not really sure who executed these two works (maybe Tiepolo for the ceiling, as that was his specialty), but I found them to be most inspirational. Below is that of which I write.

This closeup shows the beautiful detail in the carvings, decorations, and painting of the altarpiece. 

The beautiful altar in the church of Saint Zachariah

There is a bit of scandal associated with the church. Attached to the church was a convent. The nuns of this convent did not go voluntarily to serve Christ, but were thrust there by their parents -- the reason being that if one did not have the funds for a large dowry, then one had a problem when the daughter was of age to marry. The solution was to whisk the daughter away to a convent. The young girls of this convent were not at all happy and did a lot of 'entertaining' inside the convent walls. They had such raucous parties that on one occasion, city officials, trying to intervene to insist on decorum, were driven away with stones by the nuns. 


Just a bit of a side note: I notice that in most Venetian churches, actual tapers are used for prayer candles, rather than the votive candles seen in many churches. I have no idea how God feels about that, but I find it pleasing. 


I hope that you have enjoyed this glimpse into a fabulously decorated, and ancient church of Venice.


Ciao for now,