Churches of Venice
|Total Number of Churches||139|
|Total Number in Cannaregio||26|
|Total Number in Castello||26|
|Total Number in Dorsoduro||22|
|Total Number in San Marco||18|
|Total Number in San Polo||10|
|Total Number in Santa Croce||10|
|Total Number on Giudecca||9|
|Total Number on the Islands||19|
|Oldest Church||Church of L'Anzolo Rafael|
Churches, or chiese in Italian, are a common feature in most squares, or campi, throughout the city of Venice. There are 139 churches in the city, including a few recognizable landmarks, such as the Church of Frari, the Church of Miracoli, and the Basilica of San Marco (Church) pictured below. Some of the larger churches have become tourist attractions in the city of Venice. The most commonly visited church is the Basilica of San Marco (Church), however many others are open to the public daily. Several churches are open to the public free of charge or may ask for a small donation, however 16 are maintained by the Chorus Association, an organization that is responsible for the maintenance of these select churches in the city, which charge a small fee for entrance.
One of the reasons Venice has so many churches is that each island community in the city built its own place of worship, usually as a way of bringing the community together. Churches were often funded by wealthy merchants to showcase their wealth, by constructing dramatic interiors or elaborate façades. The oldest churches in the city were first established in the 9th century. While these church buildings are no longer standing, their traditions have continued through the years. In addition to old age, the churches of Venice have been subject to many disasters. In both the 11th and 15th centuries, fires burned through the city, destroying nearly all the buildings in their path. In the 15th century, the great fire in San Marco burned 21 churches to the ground. 
Another event in Venice’s history that affected many of the churches was Napoleon Bonaparte’s occupation of the city. In 1797, Napoleon took control of the Republic of Venice, and proceeded to suppress many churches and convents. Many of the churches he suppressed were able to reopen a few years later, however several were converted to military barracks or warehouse facilities and have not been restored to their original condition. Napoleon also ransacked several of the churches, and sold the art work that hung on their walls. Whether or not a Church was involved in one of these city wide events, every church in Venice has a unique story to share.
While there are 139 church buildings in the city of Venice, only 88 of them are still operating churches that hold mass at least once a week. The other 51 churches have been converted to other uses such as schools, museums or storage facilities. The map below shows the location of the 88 operating churches in Venice in green, not including 12 located on the Lagoon islands. For information on church service times, visit the See Also section below.
Many of the consecrated churches are open to the public, allowing visitors to view the art held inside. While admission to most is either free or by donations, some churches charge an admission fee. There are 16 churches that are operated by the Chorus Association which all charge a fee for visits outside of service times. For more information of the Venetian Chorus Association, visit the website in the External Links section.
Much of the art seen in the churches of Venice was funded by wealthy families displaying their affluence to those around them. Donations to the churches were used to support local artists or workshops that would create pieces to publicly showcase their skill.
The ceilings of the churches of Venice range from simple white plaster, to carved boat hulls, to paintings or frescoes. Some of these paintings are elaborate and cover the entire ceiling, giving a sense of depth on a flat surface. Otherwise unused space, the church ceilings provide a large surface for intricate designs. The center painting in the Church of Sant'Eufemia is seen to the left.
Paintings are a popular way to showcase the wealth of an area based on the influence and fame of the artist. Additionally, many of the side altars in churches are adorned with paintings of religious figures or Biblical scenes.
All churches contain at least one altar where the Eucharistic sacrifice takes place during mass. Altars can range from being simple tables to intricate stone pieces with carved figures on the front and sides. These figures typically depict biblical figures or stories. The main altar of a church is a focal point of the interior. Larger churches may have additional smaller side altars in addition to the main altar, where masses can be held in a more intimate setting. The main altar of the Church of La Salute is pictured to the right.
Floors are generally the last place someone looks for art, but in Venice, this is hardly the case. Of the 139 churches in Venice, 74 contain artifacts amounting to 2221 floor artifacts categorized as either tombs or plaques. These Church Floor Artifacts contain valuable information in their inscriptions that provide a glimpse into Venetian history. Several churches contain tombs of Doges, former rulers of Venice, and other wealthy citizens. These tombs help visitors to gain a better understanding of the age of the church they are in and its significance to the city’s history. After hundreds of years of people walking on the floors coupled with the acqua alta floods, these artifacts are in danger of being worn away. Preservation efforts of the inscriptions are important to maintain the history of the churches.
The churches of Venice house 2221 Church Floor Artifacts, which undergo wear and tear on a daily basis. Since these artifacts are made of stone, they are durable, but over several centuries, the text or images carved into the artifact are worn smooth. The Soprintendenza is an Italian government organization that oversees all restoration efforts involving culturally significant artifacts across Italy. Churches, and Church floor artifacts, are categorized as culturally significant, and therefore receive preservation funds from the Soprintendenza. Typically, several small projects are carried out each year, such as cleaning a façade or replacing the roof a church, in Venice alone, even though the Soprintendenza is responsible for all of Italy. The majority of their funding comes from tax donations called the otto per mille. This donation takes an additional 0.008% of your taxes and applies the money towards restoration projects for various churches across Venice and the rest of Italy.  The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, is a second platform for providing funding to restore churches in Venice. Around the globe, there are nearly twenty private organizations dedicated to funding preservation projects for Venice. Annually, UNESCO works with the Soprintendenza to coordinate restoration efforts of the churches of Venice. Worcester Polytechnic Institute project teams have worked tangent to UNESCO to catalog the progress of these restoration projects, and make a record of all the artifacts that lie in the floors of Venice's churches.
Of the 139 Churches in Venice, 96% (133) of them are currently, or were at one time, Catholic. The six churches of other denominations are Evangelical Lutheran Church (Lutheran), Church of Greci (Greek Orthodox), Church of St. George (Anglican), Church of Sant'Eufemia (Presbyterian), Church of Santa Croce degli Armeni (Armenian), and Church of San Zandegola (Russian Orthodox).
Today, 88 of the 139 church buildings in the city of Venice are still functioning churches that hold religious celebrations at least once a week. The other 51 churches in Venice and the Lagoon islands have been converted to other used such as school, community buildings or storage facilities.
Churches with Floor Artifacts
Of the 139 churches in Venice, 74, or 54% of the church buildings in Venice house artifacts that have been assessed. The remaining 65 churches either do not contain artifacts, or the floor could not be viewed to determine if artifacts are present.
This map shows the location of all the churches of Venice. To see the churches on the lagoon islands, use the zoom slider on the map.
- Dechaine, Danielle, Hennessey, Meghan, Orszulak, Jeffrey, Rullmann, Kevin. Treasures Underfoot: Preserving Venice's Church Floor Artifacts. An Interactive Qualifying Project for Worcester Polytechnic Institute. 2012.
- Lorenzetti, Giulio. “Venice and its Lagoon: Historical-Artistic Guide” Edizoni LINT S.R.L. Italy. 1994
- Mandonnet, P. (1911). Order of Preachers. In The Catholic: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved December 4, 2012 from New Advent: <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12354c.htm>
- S. Hoey, M. Kahan, P Marchetti, K Mazza. Convents, Palaces and Churches: Transformation of Historic Buildings and the Impact on Venice’s Neighborhoods. An Interactive Qualifying Project for Worcester Polytechnic Institute. 2003.
- Santos,Luiz G., Petrowski,Craig Peter, Kristant,Elaine Hazel, Delaive,Amanda Leigh. The Church Floors in Venice, Italy -- an Archeological Study and Analysis. An Interactive Qualifying Project for Worcester Polytechnic Institute. 2002.
- Soprintendenza B.A.P. di Venezia e Laguna. 2012. 7 Oct 2012 <http://www.soprintendenza.venezia.beniculturali.it/>