Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista
Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista, founded in 1261, has its origins in the Church of Sant’Aponal (Sant’Appollinare) and then moved in 1301, to what was called “Contrada San Stin”, today in the district of San Polo.
LEFT: St John the Evangelist 1732-1733, Giovanni Maria Morlaiter
History of the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista. Founded in 1261, it has its origins in the Church of Sant’Aponal (Sant’Appollinare) and then moved in 1301, to what was called Contrada San Stin; today in the district of San Polo. They rented some rooms owned by the Badoer family on the upper floor of a hospice for needy, elderly women next to the church. The Scuola was also allowed to conduct its own religious rites in the church, under the patronage of the Badoer. The rented rooms were later renovated.
In the Campiello della Scuola (small square), on the right-hand wall close to the entrance on the right, is a wonderful relief that shows the brothers kneeling before St John. Two inscriptions, proclaim that the works were started in 1349 and completed in 1354.
Over time the Scuola gained more and more importance, especially when in 1369 the chancellor Philippe de Mézières, of the kingdoms of Cyprus and Jerusalem; donated a fragment of the True Cross. It immediately became the object of veneration and is currently kept in the elegant chapel called “Oratorio della Croce”.
In 1797, the Republic of Venice came to an end. The Scuola Grande was closed by Napoleonic in 1806 and the property partly taken into state ownership and partly sold. The rooms were reduced to storage space and state deposits.
When the Austrians took over from the French, they actually planned to demolish the Scuola building and even to take the paving of the San Giovanni Room to Austria.
Fortunately in 1856, building entrepreneur Gaspare Biondetti Crovato, with the aid of a group of Venetians, raised the necessary funding and bought the Scuola from the Austrian state.
Their aims were of restoring and maintaining the Scuola Grande building, helping members in difficulty and taking up what had been the aims of the brotherhood in the previous centuries.
In 1931 the Scuola was raised to being an arch-brotherhood by Pope Pius XI. Fortunately, the Reliquary of the Cross, was saved from the ravages of the Napoleonic decree and eventually returned to the Scuola.
Interior. Entering at the rear of the square and on the ground floor, can be found the “Sala delle Colonne”, which has retained its original medieval appearance.
Entering at the rear of the square and on the ground floor, can be found the “Sala delle Colonne”, which has retained its original medieval appearance of the fifteenth-century building.
The Hall of Columns is a vast space intended to host the brothers and pilgrims. The five stone columns with lowered bases, decorated at the top by owl beak capitals with the figure of a cloaked brother holding the staff of St John (dated to c. 1350); support the longitudinal beam on which the ceiling beams rest.
The plain walls are interrupted by various openings, including a Renaissance doorway leading to the campiello, a water entrance and the portal, matching that of the atrium; leading to the eastern flight of the staircase.
A tiny Cappella dei Morti, was created in the bay of the staircase.
After the great flood of 1966, the hall was restored and made impermeable to high tides and is furnished with interesting stone material; most not originating from the Scuola.
One of the jewels of the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista, is the Grand Staircase dating back to 1498 and designed by architect Mauro Codussi. A true masterpiece, it leads from the Atrium and Sala delle Colonne to the first floor and is appreciated for the extraordinary ability to exploit the small space and its illusionary properties (the staircase is widens towards the top).
On the first floor is the “Sala Capitolar” (St John’s or Chapter Room); a most beautiful room. During the reconstruction in 1727 and 1762, the ancient ceiling was elevated 5 metres and 12 large oval windows were added. The result is a stunning reflection of natural light, on the coloured marble floor.
The geometric oval and star shapes form three rosettes; a pattern which is also used on the wooden benches. Many of the paintings on the walls tell episodes of the life of San Giovanni Evangelista; while the ceiling shows a series of scenes from the book of the Apocalypse.
The altar dedicated to the patron saint against the end wall, designed by Massari in 1728; replacing a previous one in wood. The niche in the centre contains the statue of St John the Evangelist in the act of writing his Gospel, accompanied by the eagle and a cherub; symbol of divine inspiration, by Giovanni Maria Morlaiter (1732-1733).
Most of the paintings on the walls illustrate episodes from the life of St John the Evangelist according to the Golden Legend by Jacopo da Varagine, while on the ceiling there is an eighteenth-century cycle of scenes taken from the book of Revelations; another work written by the author of the fourth Gospel. The more significant ceiling paintings include two corner compartments by Giandomenico Tiepolo.
Exterior. Outside, to the left of the small square, the Church of the Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista, can be visited.
Founded in 960 as a private chapel of the Badoer family, it has been extensively modified over the centuries from its original Gothic design; with only a few original design remnants remaining. The church now features a single square nave with a flat ceiling and three rectangular chapels.
It also contains a precious organ dating back to 1760, by Giovanni Battista Piaggia; next to which is a portal that leads to the adjacent cemetery.
Today. The Scuola, organises cultural and social events, often at international level and can only be visited when there are no events taking place.
Please see my other blogs in the “Scuole” series
—–The Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista—–The Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista—–