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Keeping the dead away at San Micheleย 

Published May 20, 2022
Updated Oct 27, 2022

📍 🇮🇹 Keeping the dead away at San Michele

"Here is where and how we now bury Venetians that used to rest at the glorious Frari or Zanipolo...", complained French author Chateaubriand (1768-1848). An indirect jab at Napoleon once again, his nemesis, who decreed that there was no more room for the dead on the mainland. "Unsanitary", had said the French Emperor when he conquered the town in 1797.

Interestingly, Chateaubriand described the cemetery at its beginnings - "few crosses here, most of them of wood painted black [it is almost full nowadays]... a hole also for born-dead children in limbo...". Writing in 1833, he missed the moment when the canal dividing the small island in two was filled in 1836, giving San Michele its current look. But the walls separating Greek Orthodox, Protestants and Catholics were there then as now.

Also standing since the 13th century: the church of San Michele. Rebuilt in the 15th century as one of the first Renaissance-style churches of Venice, a white chapel was added in 1530 - cappella Emiliana (see our picture).

English historian Ruskin is very hard on the latter: "... much admired chapel, but it would be difficult to find a building more feelingless or ridiculous. It is more like a German summer house than a chapel, and may be briefly described as a bee-hive set on a low hexagonal tower... yet the attached cemetery is worth entering, for the sake of feeling the strangeness of the quiet sleeping ground in the midst of the sea."

____ Sources ____

>> Chateaubriand, "Mémoires d'outre tombe", 1833
>> John Ruskin, "Stones of Venice", 1851

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