Venice, June 16, 2021- Is believed to be the oldest church in Venice, built in 421 by a carpenter named Eutinopo, coming from Candia, who devoted himself to Saint James asking him to put out a serious fire on the small island of Rivus Altus. The Church of San Giacometo is located in the heart of Venice, the Rialto market, once the centre of the commercial and financial activities of the city, which with him always had a deep connection. On the occasion of the celebrations for the anniversary of the foundation of the city, the 1600 years of Venice, the church which has always been considered as the oldest, since it was founded the same year as Venice, opens its doors. The church is, in fact, open every morning from 9.30 am to 11.30 am (Sunday Mass at 10.00 am).
The church- whose external façade is dominated by a big clock with a sun in the middle and has a small gothic portico (Venice’s only remaining original) - is managed by the Archconfraternity of San Cristoforo e della Misericordia. Its roots are related to some historical dates of which still today some evidence remains. In one of the two inscriptions, located in front of the main altar, we found the legendary foundation of the church, as recalled by the tradition handed down by Doge Andrea Dandolo. The foundations of the church were laid on 25 March 421 to honor the votive offering satisfied by the Saint, while the consecration of the church took place the same day of the following year, at the presence of the bishops Saveriano di Padova, Ilario di Altino, Giocondo di Treviso and Epodio di Oderzo.
We know that it was certainly rebuilt in 1071, following the will of Doge Domenico Selvo, and it was saved from a terrible fire that, on the night between 9 and 10 January 1514, destroyed much of the Rialto area. The Church remained undamaged, but this event was understood as a sign of the divine will to preserve the oldest church of Venice from fire.
An inscription dated back to the 12th century is located on the outside apse of the church as a confirmation of the historical connection between this house of worship and the area of Rialto: “Hoc circa templum sit jus mercantibus aequum, pondera nec vergant, nec sit conventio prava”, meaning “let the law of the merchant be fair around this temple, let the burdens be just and the contracts be loyal”. Respect for contracts and fairness in prices were, therefore, required.
In the days of the Serenissima Republic the church was home to several schools and corporations, the evidence of which remain on the altars: the main altar, for example, until the end of the 1400s was the seat of the Scuola dei Compravendipesce and the same altar also housed the Scuola dei Ternieri e Casaroli in the 1600s, which gathered the craftsmen that dealt with the sale of edible oil, honey, cheese, fresh and salted pork. The altar on the left aisle instead “belonged” to the Scuola degli Oresi, Zogielieri e Diamanteri (jewelers, goldsmiths, and diamond cutters).
The area around the Church of San Giacometo has many interesting aspects to discover, related to historical events, customs, and legends. The most popular among them is the “Gobo De Rialto”, a marble statue, located just in front of the church, made up from the same red granite as the “Pietra del Bando” in St. Mark’s Square, with a little stairway made of Istrian stone on its side, on which heralds climbed to read sentences or the list of the banned citizens. Under the ladder we found a hunchback, well-known to many thieves who, in the Middle Ages, were condemned to run naked from St. Mark to Rialto, between two rows of people whipping and disparaging them.