On a cold January morning I decided to take a trip over to Mazzorbo, a small island neglected by tourists in the northern part of the Venetian lagoon, connected nowadays by a wooden bridge to Burano.
After a 40 minutes’ ride I got off at Mazzorbo and walked over to the Church of St. Catherine, the only surviving one of the 10 once existing, testimony of the rich past history of this island that was described as a big emporium (major city).
The restaurants along the canal, Venissa and Ai Cacciatori were closed. I was struck by the absence of people and noticed everywhere bicycles leaning against the walls of the coloured houses, not however as bright as in Burano.
After having turned left and walked along a quiet canal, from where I could spot several artichoke fields, I reached the Church of St. Catherine, strangely resembling more a secular building than a church with its 4 windows on the first floor (probably added in the 19th Century during restoration in order to counterbalance static problems). The church, built in the present form in the 14th Century on the spot of a preexisting church, was once connected to a Benedictine monastery where also pilgrims stayed on their way to the Holy Land. The monastery was demolished after its suppression in 1806, thus giving origin to the open space on the left, while the wall on the right was part of the ancient foresteria, a sort of guesthouse, once referred to as ricevitoria.
CHURCH OF SAINT CATHERINE
The coat of arms Michiel (their members were Procuratori of the Monastery) is recognizable on the front door. The 6 stripes on the coat of arms with 1 to 6 disks represent according to tradition the money, the leather coins, the Doge Domenico Michiel had coined while besieging the city of Tiro, hence the name ‘micheletti’.
In the lunette, dating back to 1368 as per the inscription, the mystic marriage of St. Catherine between 2 benefactors and Christ in the middle with the Gospel in his left hand, while placing a ring on Saint Catherine’s finger with his right. Between St. Catherine and Christ the Abbess Elisabetta Dolfin and on the right a Procuratore of the monastery with 2 angels.
The atmosphere inside brings us back to the middle ages and past centuries, a sort of atrium with a warm herringbone brick floor, slabs on the walls and a garden on the right.
On the left we can admire an enthroned Madonna with a child dating back to 13th Century with Jesus and the Greek monogram of Mary in front of 2 angels and a building on the left in the background; on the right 2 slabs, one dating back to the 9th or 10th Century, difficult to interpret with circles and the other dating back to the 11th and 12th Century with Mary in the middle of an intricate pattern and 2 angels on the left. On the right 2 birds and below 12 figures, probably the apostles.
Before entering through the Renaissance door a relief of Mary Mater Gratiae is displayed, originally from the island of San Giacomo in Paludo.
The Church has a rectangular form, with an interesting ‘barco’ from where the cloistered nuns would assist religious functions, resting on columns dating back to the 14th Century with capitals with bird’s beak moulding.
Another interesting part is the wooden ceiling of the 14th Century, built like a ship’s keel turned upside down. The ceiling is supported by a double line of barbacani, wooden beams, tied with 8 perpendicular beams with a wooden coffered ceiling and painted flowers.
After the fount with mosaics, the Baroque altar of Mary Immaculate by Remigio Barbaro, a famous artist from Burano (dating back to 1932), I noticed on the left of the main altar an old relief of St. Catherine with cross and wheel of the 14th Century. On the main altar 2 Corinthian columns with tympanum with 2 angels and putto frame the Baptism of Christ by Giuseppe Salviati (1572-75). Around 1920 new Gothic elements were added to the preexisting Renaissance church and the barrel vaulted ceiling was rounded.
Once I left the Church I moved back to take a picture of the Belltower from the 14th Century with its white windows and 4 white pilasters at the corners and at the top the flag with the initials Saint Catherine. The 3 bells are old, the longest is also the oldest of the lagoon, dating back to 1318, with the archangel Michael, signed ‘magister lucas de venetiis me fecit anno MCCCXVIII’.
Returning on my steps and turning right I reached the eastern part of Mazzorbo, with breaktaking views on Burano and San Francesco del Deserto, I passed by the cemetery and headed over to the middle of the island to the modern buildings, planned in the eighties by a group of architects led by Giancarlo De Carlo.
A central street ‘Calle Grande’ crosses the settlement leading into several courtyards. All street names are written in the Venetian way on a white background with back lettering. The buildings are 2 storey buildings, typical for the buildings in the lagoon; the colours recall the nearby island of Burano, while the courtyards recalls the Venetian way of aggregation, all leading to open areas. The streets and the squares were empty; maybe the cold days were keeping everyone in.
A new bridge, one side sloping with two ramps and the other with steps, leads over to the northern tip of the island, from where behind the walls through the bare trees appears the belltower of Saint Michael, the only remaining ruin of the former monastery of Saint Michael.
Venissa is the idea of tenacious winemaker Mr Gianluca Bisiol who decided in 2002 to bring back to life an old rare, autochthonous grape Dorona that had disappeared after the devastating high tide of 1966, so almost extinct. He chose for his unique vineyard and winery the former Tenuta Volo in Mazzorbo in less than an acre. He accepted the challenge: he planted a few thousand of cuttings and propagated them… in 2010 the first bottles were ready to be tasted! The other acre was used as a fruit and vegetable garden plus a small water pond with fishing possibilities. A relaxing winery resort was opened within the walled vineyard, a perfect retreat from chaotic Venice.
It is a unique setting just to wander around.
Heading over to the boat stop back to Venice I admired small buildings on the other side, on Mazzorbetto, inhabited mainly in the summer months.
During this visit quietness and a sense of tranquility pervaded me, as here you can escape the crowds. Mazzorbo is an authentic jewel, an oasis of calm and relaxed atmosphere.