Venice, 14 July 2021- A close bond binds the Capuchin friars of the Monastery of the Redeemer to the people living in the Giudecca Island. An historical bond, which finds its roots back in the 1500s, when the friars, already at the time, treated the sick and helped the needy. A bond that was renewed when Napoleon destroyed the Order of Friars and so they were welcomed, by the “giudecchini” into their homes. Since then, five hundred years have passed but little has changed, the Capuchin friars, in fact, now as then, are always at the service of that piece of land that seems to protect, stretching out, the fish-shaped Venice.
The Votive Temple of the Redeemer, as it is called by the friars, it’s a landmark for Giudecca, as it is for the whole city, which this year celebrates the 1600th anniversary from its foundation. A few days before the celebration for the deliverance of Venice from the plague, the friars are ready to renew, both with locals and tourists, the vote to the Senate of the Republic.
The Feast of the Redeemer (Festa del Redentore) is still a very popular celebration, not just among tourists but also among Venetians themselves. Last year I had fun asking people standing in line: “Where do you came from and why are you here?”- tells us the Superior of the convent, Father Gianfranco Tinello- and I remember a man that answered: “We’re here to put into practice the vow of our forefathers”. Then I remember, with some emotion, that a group from Codogno arrived to thank and seek help from the Lord to be freed from the plague of Covid19. Now in a few days we are celebrating the Feast of the Redeemer and we, the friars, are the guardians of this encounter between a religious and social commitment and faith. Our message of hope is that now and forever this integration, this meeting between the several forces of our society, among those who are more committed on the territory and those on spiritual life, could resist so that we can find the strength to start again.
The Capuchin friars, who take their inspiration from the rule of San Francesco, have been at the Redeemer since 1535.
“The friars arrived in 1535 and since then they devoted themselves to preaching but, above all, they were essential in Giudecca because the island’ sick people were sent to them- tells us Father Gianfranco- so they could take care of those in need, and this is why in 1576 they were entrusted with the Church of the Redeemer”.
The Capuchin friars were born as part of Franciscan reform, which pursue moderation and poverty as a way of life: the first original church is located behind the majestic temple of the Redeemer and was built in 1535, it was the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.
“When the Friars saw this beautiful church of the Redeemer growing, so majestic and huge compared with the poor sizes of the Capuchin reform, they were afraid and decided to leave it- says Father Gianfranco- the compromise between Palladio and the Friars was that the church could be built in a majestic neoclassical style, with wonderful clean lines, but the choir should be kept very simple, and if fact so it is, made of just 5 windows and white painted. Even the choir chairs are not inlaid, as they are in other wonderful choirs of Venice, they are kept extremely simple”.
And so, as it is reported at the entrance of the votive temple, in 1576 the Senate of the Republic approved the construction of the Redeemer, as a thank you for the deliverance of Venice from the plague.
“You recognize it as a real votive temple because your gaze is not immediately directed toward the side chapels, although they are enriched with many works by major artists, but all leads to the Redeemer, the one who freed Venice from the plague- explains the Superior- on the day when the Redeemer was celebrated, the Doge and the Patriarch attended the ceremony seating in the two chapels placed alongside the apse”.
The complex of the Redeemer it’s all a discovery process: you can find cloisters, evidence of the wooden beams on which the temple was built, the ancient pharmacy, which was used when pestilences occurred and the Venetian authorities gave out “free tickets” to poor so that they could buy herbal-based medications, made by the Capuchin and the Monks of San Giorgio. “Actually, it is quite unusual for the Capuchins to prepare medications for the laity, since it was forbidden, but Venice was an exception”, says Father Gianfranco. It is also possible to admire, beyond the islands of San Clemente, Sacca Sessola and the Grazie, the vegetable gardens and the courtyards that, since the very beginning, were used by the friars for their survival. There are fruit trees, a little olive tree grove, used by the friars to produce olive oil, grapevines, vegetables, aromatic plants and even artichokes. There is a “cavana” with a caorlina boat, which dates back to the 1800s, that has always jointed the friars in their daily activities, including that of guiding the ones who passed away to the cemetery of San Michele. “But you can admire this caorlina also during the Vogalonga, since we all take part in it- says Father Gianfranco smiling- it seems that this caorlina arrived at the end of 1800s and is believed to be the oldest Venetian boat still on water. We also have a “mototopo” boat that we use during our charitable actions, for example during the distribution of food".
Daily life here is all about work and prayer, along with the school of theology, the maintenance activities of the huge complex and the care of the garden.
“Our commitment is to preserve the convent and to care for spiritual and material assistance- concludes Father Gianfranco- during the Covid19 emergency the friar joined other associations that operated on the island to help the needy and, in the end, we have helped almost 130 families, more than 300 people. We hope to get over the Covid19 emergency and that this difficult period, as in other situations, could let some deep feelings rise. We hope that people, who took advantage of our support, in the end, decide to volunteer with us or to help, themselves, those in need”.