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San Pietro di Castello

Venice's cathedral for 800 years

Entrance to San Pietro di Castello

I am aware of no other city in Europe in which its cathedral was not the principal feature. . . . The patriarchal church, inconsiderable in size and mean in decoration, stands on the outermost islet of the Venetian group, and its name, as well as its site, is probably unknown to the greater number of travellers passing through the city. John Ruskin

San Pietro di Castello (San Piero de Casteo, in dialect) was Venice’s cathedral from the 11th century until 1807, when the rationally minded Napoleon made the ducal chapel of San Marco the seat of Venice’s Patriarch. Its lonely, distant site is no small comment on the Republic’s hostile attitude towards the Papacy.

In practice the Venetians were (and still are) more church-going than the Romans, but when it came to popes trying to assert any degree of temporal authority, the Venetians firmly drew the line. Their Patriarch, a position assumed in 1451 from the ancient see of Aquileia, Grado and Udine, with the same status as a cardinal, was appointed by the Venetian Senate instead of the Pope; and whenever a church problem was discussed by the Senate it was always noted at the head of the official minutes: ‘Cazzadi i papalisti’ (‘The supporters of the Pope have been removed’).

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Text © Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls

Image by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, Creative Commons