Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Island afterlife: San Michele

The island of San Michele has served as a haven for fishermen and travellers, a monastery, a prison, and finally since 1807, a cemetery.

Originally two islands, San Michele and San Cristoforo della Pace, the islands were joined by filling the intervening canal and became the main burial place for Venetian citizens.

The Church of San Michele, designed by Mauro Codussi, was the first Renaissance church built in Venice. With its monastery it is the main visitor attraction on the island, but it closes at noon.

A bronze statue welcomes visitors on the approach, commemorating the founding of the monastery.

The Cimitero has its own stop on a special route for the water buses, which stop every 15 minutes or so. It's not a very popular stop for the locals, and usually only visitors to the church or curious tourists who have seen the more famous sites of Venice stop by.

The gardeners were busy planting the gardens for the spring season, although that day was too hot to work. The landscaped gardens were appropriately silent.

Although the church was closed, visitors were welcome to take a thoughtful walk through the maze-like cloisters, inscribed everywhere with names of the departed.

The church of San Cristoforo presides over its original churchyard. Several notable intellectuals are buried here, including non-Italians: British poet Ezra Pound, the great composer Stravinsky, and writer Joseph Brodsky reside here.

A Sunday silence covered the place; we walked and talked softly, as in a library. Many graves bore evidence of recent visits; some were quite artistic. 

Even the room of ashes was bright, silent, and gorgeously painted, like a gallery of antiquities. 

People lingered most in the Children's Graveyard, counting the short years between birth and death.

Being Catholic, we saw the memorial gardens more as a restful meditative space, not morbid or frightening. It was a welcome oasis of silence in the middle of the tourist rush, and we were grateful to find it.

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