Kabbalah and Francesco della Vigna

Kabbalah and Francesco della Vigna. This church in Castello; was built according to Pythagorean Kabbalistic musical tradition. The aim was for the church to “entirely reflect the harmony of the universe“; as described by hermetic writers.

In 1534, the original 13th century church suffering severe disrepair; was ordered to be rebuilt by Doge Andrea Gritti, whose palazzo was very close by.

It was to a design by Sansovino in Renaissance style, with a significant contribution by the Franciscan monk, Francesco Zorzi; who also supervised the construction. The facade, was later changed to a design by famous neoclassical architect Andrea Palladio; thought to be his first church assignment in Venice and more in keeping with the time.

This post covers the principles of Kabbalistic music, as applied to the interior design; a short life history of the influential monk Francesco Zorzi and an explanation of Venetian measuring systems before metrification. 

  • History
  • Principles of Kabbalistic Music
  • Francesco Zorzi (1453-1540 – A student of Kabbalah?
  • Venetian Standard measuring systems
  • Links (internal-external)


Kabbalah and Francesco della Vigna –  History


Facade_of_San_Francesco della Vigne_- Venice








Above R: “View of the Campo and the Church of San Francesco della Vigna” by Francesco Guardi.  Above L: Palladio’s revised neo-classical front facade design. 

Below L: Sansovino’s original design is now preserved on a medal (left), with Gritti’s profile on the reverse side; which shows the dome originally planned but never built.  When Gritti died in 1538, he was buried inside the church. Note the absence of the large dome.


The Church of San Francesco della Vigna, was first built in the 13th century by Marino di Pisa; on the site of old vineyards. By the 16th century, the church was in such terrible condition, that the doge, Andra Gritti, who lived in his palazzo nearby; ordered it to be rebuilt.

The initial plans were drawn up by Sansovino and the doge laid the foundation stone on 15th August 1534.

Note. Jacopo d’Antonio Sansovino (2 July 1486 – 27 November 1570) was the famous Florentine sculptor and architect; best known for his works around the Piazza San Marco and are crucial works in the history of Venetian Renaissance architecture.


However, the plans were greatly influenced by the Franciscan monk Francesco Zorzi; who took charge of construction. Zorzi, applied the principles of Kabbalah and its musical tradition, to make the building’s proportions reflect Pythagorean musical consonances. The aim, was for the church to “entirely reflect the harmony of the universe“; as described by hermetic writers.

To achieve this, he made extensive use of the number 3, a divine number; that represented the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The standard unit of measure he used, termed the “Passo Veneziana” (Venetian Passo); can still be seen inside the land entrance to the Arsenale. (Note. See bottom of page for fuller explanation of measuring systems; before and after the fall of the Republic.)

The church’s units of measurement used for the interior (see plans below).  From front entrance door to the choir boundary, was 27 units (3x3x3); which was 3 times its width at 9 units (3×3) across the nave. Similarly, the side chapels, were to be 3 units wide and the choir and the chapel behind the altar, 6 units wide and 9 units in length. The overall length of the church, front to rear, was 45 units (27+9+9).

Vibrations of the Notes. The number 3, also refers to the three vibrations of the notes, that are the basis of Pythagorean musical tradition: C,G and E, each in harmony with the musical requirements of rhythm, melody and harmony. In the musical Kabbalah, these notes represent the Holy Spirit (C), the Son (G)  and the father (E).

Of additional importance to Zorzi, apart from proportions based on the number 3; was the relationship between the various dimensions in the church. These corresponded to musical intervals, for example: relationships in the ratio of 4:3, correspond to musical fourths. The relationship 3:6, to an octave and 6:9 to a musical fifth.

       L: Ratios in Venetian  Passo                                      R: Ratios of the Vibrations of the Notes



















Other reasons the number 3, is considered to be one of the most significant of all numbers:

  • The number 3, was said to be Moses’ inspiration in his construction of the Ark of the Covenant.
  • St Paul, in his letters to the Corinthian’s, wrote that it is explicit in the proportions of the human body.
  • It was said to have inspired the proportions of Soloman’s Temple in Jerusalem.




Born into a noble family in 1453, Dardi Francesco Giorgio, was elected a member of the city’s Grand Council thanks to his father, at the age of 18. (Note Zorzi is the Venetian equivalent of Giorgio).

However, pursuing  a religious vocation, he later became a Franciscan monk; assuming the name of Francesco. Because he gave up the family name of Dardi, his mother disinherited him.

He was ordained at San Francesco della Vigna and quickly developed expertise in Platonism and the Kabbalah. Between 1490 and1500, he visited Palestine to measure his knowledge against Jewish scholars; visiting all the holy sites and learning Hebrew.

Back in Venice, Zorzi in 1504, became the spiritual director of two nuns; Chiara Bugni and Orsola Ausnaga; at the Venice convent of the Holy Sepulchre. He witnessed several miracles, performed by these nuns.

In 1510, Zorzi was appointed, to oversee work on the sanctuary of the “Madonna of the Miracle” at Motta di Liverna; where the Virgin had appeared to Ludovico Cigana, on the 8th August that year.

Also, Pope Clement VII consulted him, on the matter of the divorce, requested by Henry VIII of England.

Now a respected figure, Zorzi published in 1526, his “De Harmonia Mundi“, that was dedicated to Pope Clement VII. In this work, he develops his own ideas for the construction of San Francesco della Vigna; in line with the principles of Jewish Kabbalah and Kabbalistic music.

The rebuilding of the church in 1554, corresponded with a time when there was a growing schism within the Franciscan Order. This occurred between the Friars Minor or Observantists (who advocated a return to the austerity and poverty of St Francis of Assisi) and the Conventuals (who claimed the order should develop with the times), found at the “Frari” in San Polo district. Zorzi, also saw amongst his Observantist movement, the emergence of a reform movement; that led to the formation of the Capuchin Franciscans. He was always firmly opposed to this schism.(Note: fortunately, the two Franciscan churches were a fair distance apart! However, the Frari appears to have got both the money and prestige. Up till now, the area around the church and the Gritti Palace was very run down; but recently has been undergoing restoration).



Just inside the southern main land entrance to the Arsenal, on the wall are two metal bars; indicating the standard measure for the “Passo Veneziana” (before 1875) and the “Metre”(after 1875). They were placed there around late 19th century, to familiarise Venetians with the new metric system of measurement. On 20th May, 1875, seventeen countries signed a convention; promoting the metric systems use in their respective countries.

How long was the Venetian Passo? Used throughout Venetian territories, it was the equivalent of 5 feet or 1.74 metres. It was derived from use by Romans: the “gradus” or single step of 2.5 feet; or the “passus” or double step of 5 feet.

Just to complicate matters, in main Italian cities, the “passo” could vary between 1.49M and 1.93M; as well as the squared (passo quadrato) or cubic (passo cubico) measurements!



Links (internalexternal)

Please see my other related posts, in the category of: History and Architecture

For those interested in the mysterious, mythical or dark side of Venetian history and culture; I have put together a list of links below to those posts that include elements of Christian Symbolism, Sacred Geometry, Kabbalah, Freemasonry and Alchemy, which I hope to expand.

Sacred Geometry

St Mark’s Basilica

The Lion of St Mark

Santa Maria della Salute

Symbolism of the Venetian Cross

Palazzo Lezze and Alchemic Symbolism

La Maddalena and Masonic Symbolism

Doge’s Palace – Column Capitals

Mouths of the Lion

Pateras – Small Circular Reliefs

VIDEO: WALKING AROUND VENICE: The neighborhood of San Francesco della Vigna


Kabbalah and Francesco della Vigna     Kabbalah and Francesco della Vigna     Kabbalah and Francesco della Vigna

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