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San Zan Degolà (St. Johan the beheaded)

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The Church of San Zan Degolà (St. Johan The Beheaded) can be found in one of the quietest corners of the city, way far from the standard itinerary and totally forgotten by the mass of tourists.

There you have the sensation to be back in the past, just a few people around, no glass and mask shops…a total peace. It is situated on the omonymous square, halfway between San Giacomo Dall’ Orio and the Fondaco dei Turchi in the Sestiere di Santa Croce.

The church is very old, the first documents about it are dated 1007. The present aspect is related to a recent story: it is thanks to the Venier family, owner of a palace close by, that the church was completely restored during the XII century.

It is very important because is the only example of Veneto-Bizantine art in a good state of conservation (not worth to be mentioned some minor restorations, the last one made in 1994). The church was closed for almost 20 years and now belongs to the Russian orthodox community that runs the officiating regularly.

The inside is very simple, the roof is shaped as a keel (a ship bottom) held by 8 Greek marble columns dating XI century, with some Bizantine capitols dividing the inside into three naves. Various frescos (discovered during the last restoration) are embellishing the walls, and many more are due to be dated. There are representations of Saint Helen, the Annunciation, and an image of Gabriel the Archangel standing on a Dragon.
During the Napoleonic Era the church was used as storage deposit and the frescos were probably covered during that period, thus causing the decay of the floors and the columns.

The church is related also to a gloomy story, not unusual for Venice!!! It is said that on November 21st , 1500, the priest of San Zan Degolà, Francesco, exterminated a whole family.
The man was sentenced to death the following 19th December, his right hand amputated and then executed in Saint Mark’s Square!

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