May the Lord bring you peace!
The Friars Minor Conventual in Venice welcome you to the Basilica dedicated to “Glorious St. Mary” with the traditional Franciscan greeting of peace and all good.
Walking down the aisles of this simple and elegant Gothic Franciscan church you will find yourself surrounded by extraordinary works of art that reach back through eight centuries of history, faith and devotion at this Shrine. The contemplation of so much beauty – the divine spark – accompanied by the silence of this holy place can fill one with a sense of peace and serenity.
In Venice, the ‘Frari’ was the main convent of the “Friar Minor Conventuals”, known as “Frari” in Venetian dialect. The friars also lived in S. Nicoletto della Lattuga (1354) and in other smaller convents.
In 1342, the chronicler Andrea Dandolo wrote in the Chronicon Venetum that the Friar Minors, upon arriving in Venice, survived on hard work. They set a good example for others and used to sleep under the porticos of St. Silvestro church, in the St. Polo sestiere (district), “and they lived off hard work and charity”. It’s stated that, during the Dogeate of Jacopo Tiepolo (1229-49), the Friar Minors settled in a building which contained a convent
and a small church. This took place in around 1231. The geographical position of the land, “donated by the Commune” to the Friars, was in a low, twiggy and marshy area which spread out among the ‘contradas’ of St. Giacomo dell’Orio, St. Stin, St. Pantalon, St. Tomà, in the
sestiere (district) of St. Polo. The spirit of the convent and the church were the Conventuals “who knew how to create, in accordance with the followers, a perfect harmony between history, art, spirit and faith”. By April 28,1250, the Friars had already outgrown the initial buildings and so the Legate of the Pope, Cardinal Ottaviano Ubaldini, placed the first stone of a second church, dedicating it to Santa Maria Gloriosa. As far as this second church is concerned, we know that it was built, probably based on the design of Nicola Pisano, with a “large chapel” with “two little chapels” on either side i.e. three apses which backed onto the canal that now flows in front of the facade. This church was 50 metres long and around 25
Around 1330, to accommodate the increasing number of followers, the friars began to build a larger third church, the present Basilica. They started by erecting the apses and so as to take advantage of the older building they built it the other way round.
Progress was rapid and only three years later, the apses, the transept and the aisles had already been built and covered. At the same time the sacristy and the chapter house were erected. In 1361, Jacopo Celega laid the foundations for the bell tower which was completed by his son, Pierpaolo, in 1396. In 1382, Vito Lion provided the funds for the numerous windows of the apses which were illustrated by an Alemannian friar. Work was stopped due to a lack of funds and the extension of the church only recommenced in 1407 and was eventually completed in 1420.
During the same year, 1420, the heirs of Federico Corner added the chapel of St. Mark to the apses. In 1432, the bishop of Vicenza Pietro Emiliani ordered the chapel of St. Peter to be built. In 1468, the carving of the wooden choir was completed. It was embellished with a marble ‘septo’. On 13th February, 1469, the high altar was consecrated in the presence of the Emperor Federico III. On 27th May 1492, the Basilica was finally consecrated by the Bishop Pietro Pollagari from Trani of the Friar Minor Conventuals.
In the following centuries the Basilica was decorated with precious monuments, paintings and furnishings. However, in 1797, the French Democracy plundered the silverware from the ‘Scuole’ and the altars. The Napoleonic period forced the Friars to leave the convent. During the 1800s monuments were dedicated to Canova and Titian. In 1891, in light of the positive effect attained in the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, the hexagonal walnut covering, which were placed at the base of the columns in the 17th century, were removed.
Towards the second half of the 20th century, the pulpit was also removed from the third pillar on the right looking away from the central doorway.
In the first few years of the 1900s, (1902-1915), the foundations of the Basilica were radically strengthened and the supporting structures were restored. This was done due to the fact that St. Mark’s bell tower collapsed on 14th July 1902. Furthermore, a few small houses built in around 1830 and used for storage were knocked down. Seeing as they were attached to the apses of the church and the sacristy, they spoilt the purity of the Basilica’s lines.
On 1st February 1926, the seventh centenary of the death of St. Francis, the church of the Friars was raised to the level of Basilica Minor due to its sheer beauty, simplicity and the masterpieces within. Towards the end of the 20th century the entire Basilica was subjected to a detailed restoration both to resolve the problems caused by the passing of time and to prevent any further instability in the bell tower which might affect the chapel of St. Peter and the left aisle. A careful restoration was carried out on the copious number of masterpieces present in this Basilica so that even today it continues to be a place of art, culture and faith.