The Island of San Clemente
For centuries, the island of San Clemente, housed a monastic settlement, more recently a mental asylum and since 2016, a luxury hotel complex.
The island is 6 hectares in size and lies about 2 kilometres south of Piazza San Marco; between the Giudecca and the Lido
There is no public transport to the island, however, anyone can use the complimentary hotel boat service to and from St Mark’s Square.
The private boat shuttles at least every 20-30 minutes, between San Clemente Island and the Piazza San Marco hotel’s boat pier, located in front of the Zecca (Mint), immediately to the west of the Piazza, on the Molo. The detailed boat schedule is displayed on the boat dock and on the San Clemente Palace Kempinski Hotel App.
You may also reach the Island of San Clemente by water taxi directly from any location in Venice.
The island was first settled in 1131, when Venetian merchant Pietro Gattilesso funded the construction of the church of San Clemente and a hospice for pilgrims and soldiers destined for the Holy Land. The church was built in Romanesque style.
The name is dedicated to Pope Clement I, the patron of seamen and who according to legend, died as a martyr.
The complex was run by Augustine canons, while the island was under the jurisdiction of Enrico Dandolo, the Patriarch of Grado. In 1288, the relics of Saint Anianus, the first successor of St. Mark as Patriarch of Alexandria; were brought to the San Clemente church.
After experiencing a slow decline in the course of the 14th century, San Clemente gained renewed life in 1432, when Pope Eugene IV moved to the island. the order of Lateran canons from the Santa Maria della Carità monastery in Venice. Thanks to donations provided by wealthy Venetian families, the canons began work on the restoration of the church and enlargement of the monastery.
In 1630, the island had temporarily been a hospital for plague victims.
In 1643, in order to fulfil a vow made during the plague epidemic that struck the city in 1630; Venetians funded the building of a new chapel, modelled on the Holy House of Loreto inside the San Clemente church. This “church in a church” is still a main feature of the construction. The facade was restored at this time, but kept its Codussi-influenced appearance.
Camaldolese Hermits of Monte Corona, purchased the island in 1645. The Venetian nobility provided them with financial assistance to restore the church and monastery; adding additional houses to the complex.
In 1652 the Morosini family sponsored the restoration of the church facade by Andrea Cominelli, as a tribute to the family’s members Francesco and Tommaso; who died in the War of Candia. Busts of Francesco and Tommaso Morosini, are to be found on the facade and inside.
The fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797 impacted San Clemente. With the suppression of religious orders by Napoleon, in 1810 the Camaldolese monks left the island. It then became a military garrison and parts of the monastery complex demolished. It also was a cat sanctuary.
From 1844 the island housed a mental hospital, illustrating the “confinement of the mad” and their exclusion from society common to the period. This female asylum, housed women of Venice who were considered insane. Over time, the island earnt a reputation amongst Venetian’s equating “going to San Clemente” with going mad; much in the way the word “Bedlam” has been used within the UK.
According to historian Andrew Scull, Mussolini sent his first wife Ida Dalser, to San Clemente; effectively incarcerating her.
The asylum was abandoned in 1992, before being bought and developed into the hotel complex it houses today.
The photographer Raymond Depardon, produced a book and a film about the San Clemente asylum in 1979.
GATEWAY TO VENICE
Between the 15th and 16th centuries, San Clemente became known as the “Gateway to Venice”.
It became standard practice to take the “Bucentaur” (the Doge’s ceremonial barge), to the island to meet distinguished visitors. On the return journey to San Marco, the guests were entertained by a variety of spectacles and performances.
Marino Sanudo, writing about Venice in 1493, described the Bucentaur as “a marvel, in which the Prince and Senate go to any great lord visiting the city; they go to San Clemente or elsewhere, depending on the direction from which the visitor is coming”.
Above: Frescoed ceiling and church interior.
One guidebook states that paintings by such 17th century artists as Marieschi, Zanchi, Trevisani and Marchetti are being kept in storerooms. The hotel website merely says “only a few canvases survive”.
There is a painted ceiling in the apse. There is no altar, as such; but a baroque version of the Santa Casa (Holy House) in Loreto, from 1646.
Statues of Faith and Hope stolen from here, can be seen in the Sant’Apollonia Diocesan Museum. (The fact that she’s carrying a purse suggests that she’s Charity – Photo left).
HOTEL SAN CLEMENTE PALACE KEMPINSKI
The buildings on the private island were renovated in 2003 and converted into a luxury hotel.
In September 2013, it was announced that a subsidiary of the Turkish “Permak” construction group, had bought the property. Permak launched further renovations between 2013 and 2014, while retaining the historic character.
The property is currently managed by Kempinski Group, which reopened the hotel as San Clemente Palace Kempinski in March 2016. The hotel has 190 rooms and suites, three restaurants and three bars, an outdoor swimming pool and a tennis court as well as a golf pitching course.
Website: San Clemente Palace Kempinski Venice
Isola di San Clemente Tel: +39 041 4750111 30124 Venice Italy Fax:+39 041 4750150
Please see my other posts in the series; Islands of the Lagoon