Thursday, May 04, 2017

VENICE 2017: The San Michele Island Cemetery

So, after lunch on Murano (last post), we hopped on the vaporetto for the 1.5 km. ride to the San Michele island, which we had passed that morning.

See how close it is, halfway between Venice and Murano.  (Wiki image)
But how many tourists ever visit San Michele???

You can actually see the island easily from the northern coast of Venice.
What you see is a walled island...and what's inside is a cemetery.
Have you ever heard of an island that is a cemetery?

It became a cemetery in 1807 "when under French occupation it was decreed that burial on the mainland...was unsanitary." 

The Church of San Michele from 1469 is the main landmark of the island,
the first Renaissance church in Venice.
See how close the Murano lighthouse appears behind it (top-right).

In fact, on our way to Murano that morning, look what we saw leaving the cemetery stop.
There had just been a service, after which the casket was being transported back to Venice.
Because of increasing lack of space, most bodies are now buried on the mainland.

But later, there's the Murano lighthouse again, when we left after lunch,
and then quickly rounded the church on our way to the San Michele vaporetto stop.

The entrance through the wall is immediately there upon disembarking.
And then?  Where to begin!

Because it was right there, we decided to start with the church,
passing through the 15th century cloister.

We wondered if the flowers were from the morning's service?

You know how much we love these places of worship...
like museums to us who view them without a Roman Catholic upbringing.

Then we started to wander about.
There are three different cemeteries on the island and this is the Roman Catholic section.

We hate seeing the graves for children, of course...or for anyone, for that matter.

But we knew famous foreigners were also buried there:
Ezra Pound, Sergei Diaghilev and Igor Stravinsky, for example.
We found the latter two, with their tell-tale signs of music and ballet, in the Greek Orthodox section.

As you'd expect, we often came to the wall's perimeter of the cemetery 
and had to turn into a new direction....

leading us to sections totally different from the last,

like to the 7 war graves from WWI.

This is the Protestant section of the cemetery.  Can you tell?

This San Cristoforo church originally belonged to San Cristoforo della Pace, 
another island that was eventually merged together with San Michele for the cemetery.
The original church was demolished and rebuilt in the mid-19th century,
but we did not visit it.

Lining the walls to the church were more tombs...

and then the other end of the cemetery.
I'm sure we missed a lot but we got the gist, which is what we had come to see.

As we left, we had a better view of the floating statue we had seen earlier:

It's the Barque of Dante created by Georgy Frangulyan in 2007.
"The composition is based on the episode from The Divine Comedy in which Dante and Virgil
cross the river Acheron, and the water boils with damned souls.  Virgil of bronze shows Dante
to the island of San Michele, where the famous Venetian cemetery is situated."

Supposedly it's the only statue in the world standing in the water.
It was created for the 52nd Venice Biennale but will now remain there forever.
A fitting close to an afternoon at the San Michele cemetery!


  1. Places like this are like museums to us. The things we saw are incredible. The total silence in the church, the beauty of the frescoes in the church and then all the different parts of the cemetery. The floating statue is a landmark in between the two islands. Because we had a broken down water-bus and we were delayed for about 40 minutes, we saw the boat with the casket. Often we see very special things on our trip. Thank you again for putting in so much time and collages/pictures and love into these post. A memory to last. IHVJ.

    1. You were in front of me on the boat and saw the casket first and then pointed it out to me. It was going so fast I almost missed it altogether. So THANK YOU. I doubt we'll ever see such a thing again.

      I'm so glad we both share the love of cemeteries!!! Each and every one is different, no matter where we are in the whole wide world!

  2. The boat and casket are certainly unique for this part of the world. Great church and love the cemeteries.

    1. The boat with casket surely made our day, Marie. I can't imagine ever seeing something like it again. Thank you.

  3. well, i'm kind of silenced by this post... so many dead people are silenced too, so i feel it's appropriate.

    that casket on the boat could only happen there i am guessing! and you got a great shot of it!

    i think it was the childrens' graves that did me in.

    1. Thank you, Elaine. The children's graves always do me in. I love the word "bambini" for children. How sweet. I'm afraid death is so much a part of life...but so avoided in America, compared to other countries. As I keep saying, I really learn a lot from these foreign cemeteries.

  4. Well like others...seeing that casket on the boat was something many tourists would never see. Wow! Oh, you know I love cemeteries too...and all the personal objects that shares the life of the person. I know I could've spent hours - ok days - there! Wonderful images!

    1. Yes, Robin. I know we're on the same page regarding cemeteries, so thank you for your support!

  5. Hi Ginnie
    I always photographed San Michele since the lagoon because I do not like cemeteries and, when I can avoid them, I avoid them. But you knew how to make it of very beautiful photos. Good evening and see you soon

    1. I'm sure there are many like you, Marie, who do NOT like cemeteries, so you are not alone. I'm glad you are still able to see beauty in some of the photos. Thank you for even looking!

  6. All your observations are rich and delightful as always. Cemeteries are very beautiful, with the green and all that stone.

    1. Thank you, Ruth. It makes me want to go back to the cemetery in Grand Ledge where Mom and Dad are buried to walk around and observe more than I have previously!

  7. Another place we didn’t get to. No Jewish section? We did get to the Synagogue in Venice. I can’t recall if it had any sort of cemetery. So let me understand: They go to the old cemetery to have a service, and then they go back to the mainland to bury the body there???

    1. I don't recall seeing a Jewish section, Ted, which now surprises me. We stayed in a B&B near the Ghetto and visited that area of the neighborhood. By the mid-17th c. the Jewish population numbered over 5K there. Only 500 +/- Jews now live in Venice, according to our travel guide, and only 33 of them live in the Ghetto. We did NOT find a Jewish cemetery anywhere, however.

      And yes, while not all do it, some funeral services are still held at San Michael, even though the body is not buried there. The church and place hold so much significance.

  8. Hi Ginnie, I wanted to leave a note telling you how much I appreciated the Barque of Dante. As a student of Dante, I found this statue very poignant, very expressive. The fact that it remains in the water is stunning. I'm just home from 3 weeks in Spain and one of the most recent places was the Sagra Familia in Barcelona. Some of the statues there remind me of the extraordinary power of this Barque of Dante: just a few turns of the body, the lean of the head telling the story. It is definitely "less is more" in its most sublime state. Of course your pictures take me back to Italy! I love visiting your blog to take me back. Couldn't help but notice the comments above about the Jewish section. If anybody wants to see and live the state of "convivir" (to live together with the spirit of accommodation and sharing...), Spain is another place to visit. Such a rich mix of Moorish and Jewish history in the roots of the country. Thanks for your incredible blog Ginnie. Sending love to you and Astrid. Susie

    1. Now that we are back from Cornwall, Susie, I am catching up a bit, loving that you stopped by and commented here. THANK YOU. I am familiar with Barcelona from 2 (is it 3???) trips there, and so can see your point about the Sagra Familia statues. What a place! That Gaudi was something else, wasn't he.

      I'm so glad Astrid figured out for me what this Barque of Dante statue was because it took a lot to find it. I am thrilled the city made the decision to keep it on permanent display!

      So good to hear from you. Hoping you and Paddy are doing well!