Nearly two years ago, I wrote about the church of Santa Eufemia on Giudecca, noting my frustration that it never seemed to be open. But yesterday, strolling down the fondamenta after lunch for a quick look, we were riveted to see that the small door under the portico was open – and not only that, but another small door on the far wall was also open, and apparently led to a small garden. We couldn’t used this canal-facing door for access, however, as it was blocked not only by an anti-acqua-alta board but also a range of rails on the inside. So it was with some excitement that we rounded the corner to find that the main west door was open too …
The first thing I realised inside was that the pink marble columns that I had identified from on-line photographs were nothing of the sort – the were in fact grey stone columns sheathed in pink-and-white damask fabric. The second was that the paintwork, which looked pistachio-coloured in the photos, is in reality a rather darker green.
The Bartolomeo Vivarini St Roche is stunning, framed by marble columns and a tympanum under which a Madonna and Child sit in a lunette.
The second picture shows an oddity of the interior decoration – the plaster below the height of the arches in the nave is stripped in some places back to the brickwork, leaving a strange but not unpleasing contrast between the crudeness of the brick and the elegance of the plaster-work and its green-and-white colour scheme.
The altarpiece appears to show the four virgin martyrs to whom the church is dedicated, along with a bishop (?); above them the Virgin Mary is assumed into Heaven.
There are grisaille paintings of saints along the upper part of the nave, and a martyr (Santa Eufemia herself?) being received into Heaven on the ceiling.
What I hadn’t expected was the side-chapel of St Anne, which contains the remains of the Blessed Giuliana di Collalto: a gilded plaque gives the date of her death as 1262.
Giuliana, it appears, was the daughter of Rambaldo VI di Collalto, count of Treviso, and born about 1186. Having taken the veil at the age of twelve, she later moved to Venice, where in 1226 she took on the rebuilding of the church of SS Biagio e Cataldo on Giudecca and founded a convent there of which she became abbess.
On her death in 1262, she was buried in the church’s cemetery, but was moved first to the Redentore and then to Sant’ Eufemia when San Cataldo was demolished (as noted in my previous piece, the date of this appears to be uncertain). Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XIV (who was a great supporter of intellectual women) had beatified her in 1743.
The little garden on the far side of the church is currently full of promising-looking roses, and one rather floppy iris.
It presumably takes up part of the space which was the cloister of Giuliana’s church. You can see from it right through the church to the canal beyond.
And this is the view from just inside the door opening on to the fondamenta.
The church was completely deserted all the time we were there, and there was no indication of why the doors were open in the early afternoon of a weekday. Perhaps someone had recently cleaned inside, put fresh flowers in front of the altar, and decided to let the sunshine in for a few hours. How lucky for us that, for once, we were in the right place at the right time.