Santa Maria delle Grazie, has been a hospice for pilgrims, a convent, powder store and a hospital for infectious disease. Currently it is a private regeneration and development project, with a theme of “well-being, rest and recuperation”.
It is a small artificial island of about 4 hectares, developed in the Middle Ages from rubble and dredged material from building and canal development waste, in the city of Venice.
Less than 2 kilometres due south of the Piazza San Marco, located between the eastern end of the Guidecca and the Island of San Clemente
The island originally bore the name of “Cavana” or “Cavanella” (probable derivation: a shelter for boats).
Along with the islands of San Clemente, San Servolo and Sacca Sessola; they assumed the name of “Islands of Grace”, as they were home to hospitals for infectious disease and mental health.
Always home to ecclesiastical institutes, from about 1264, the island served as a hospice for pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land. Later it was transformed into a convent, by the confraternity of San Girolamo di Fiesole.
From the 15th century onward, “Santa Maria delle Grazie” derived its name from a legend according to which a group of sailors returning from Constantinople, carrying a portrait of the Virgin Mary; had a vision that communicated to them, the divine will to give the portrait residence on the island.
From the confraternity, the convent passed to the Capuccine nuns.
From the seventeenth century until the end of the Republic it was the starting point of the pilgrims who every year, on July 17, set sail at sunset and with great celebration to go to Assisi. This can be considered the period of greatest splendour of the island: the church was adorned with works by various famous painters such as Tintoretto, Veronese and Longhi.
With the fall of the Venetian Republic, the island-monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, was subject to suppression in 1810. Religious buildings, including a Gothic church with beautiful paintings, were secularized by Napoleon; under his rule it became a military zone. Sadly in 1849, the church and buildings were destroyed; when the powder store exploded.
After the annexation in 1866 of Venice and Veneto to the Kingdom of Savoy Italy, the island’s role changed. At the end of the nineteenth century a hospital was built initially for respiratory problems and later for the treatment of infectious diseases. It was operational until a few years ago; when the high running costs and inadequate facilities, forced closure and abandonment.
The abandoned island has lush vegetation and there are a few significant features remaining of historical and artistic interest, together with two sheltered areas for boats.
In 2016 the island was sold to a private company from Treviso, Giesse Investimenti s.r.l; who plans to turn it into an exclusive resort, centred on well-being, rest and recuperation.
THE ISLAND TODAY
At present I am uncertain as to the present state of development and completion date. However, there does appear to be some private rental accommodation available advertised online.
There is no public transport available.
Marco Secchi, has an online gallery of his images of the abandoned hospital and surroundings.
Please see my other posts in the series “Islands of the Lagoon”: HERE
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