Today we have set aside to view St. Marco, the church of the patron saint of Venice, whose bones are said to have been brought by Venetians from Alexandria in 829. It is a Romanesque brick Basilica built in 830 and rebuilt after a fire in 976. In the 11th century, it was reconstructed in a Byzantine style on the model of the old church of the Apostles at Constantinople and decorated in a lavish, almost oriental, magnificence.
The edifice, 250’ x 170’, is in the form of a Greek cross with equal arms covered by a dome at the end of each arm. The foremost arm is completely surrounded by a vestibule covered with a number of smaller domes. Externally and internally, the church is adorned with 500 marble columns, mostly oriental with capitals in various styles of architecture. The mosaics are wonderful, and you can get an idea of their number and size when I tell you that they cover 45,790 square feet. Figure that out at $10 a square foot, and it makes you wish that you had a job like that on hand. They date from the 10th century and periods between the 12th and 16th century and give us an idea of the early aptitude of the Venetians for pictorial composition.
The church is beautiful in its coloring brought about by glass, transparent alabaster polished marble and lustrous gold. Over the principal portal are “Four horses in gilded bronze 5’ in height,” which are among the finest of ancient bronzes. They probably once adorned the triumphal arch of Nero and later that of Trajan. Constantine sent them to Constantinople whence the Doge brought them in 1204. Napoleon carried them to Paris in 1797 and Emperor Francis restored them in 1815, so you see they have traveled some.
In the Vestibule, three red slabs in the pavement commemorate the reconciliation between Emp. Barabrossa and Pope Alexander III effected here in 1777 by the Doge Ziani. The mosaic in the different dome vaultings represent scenes from the of Testament: Creation, Fall, Deluge of Babel, etc. The interior impresses you by its noble perspective and the magnificent decorations. The pavement of marble mosaic dates from the 12th century. On the right and left of the approach to the high altar are two pulpits in colored marble supported on columns which came from Constantinople. On the screen are 14 statues representing the Virgin, John the Baptist and the 12 apostles. In the Sacristy are mosaics of ornamental scroll work which I would like to have on our office ceiling. The High Altar stands beneath a canopy of verde antico. The Pala d’oro enameled work with 1600 Jewels on plates of gold and silver, executed in Constantinople in 1105, forms an altar piece. Behind the altar is a second altar with four spiral columns of alabaster, two of which are translucent and are said to have belonged to the Temple of Solomon. The bronze door leading to the Sacristy shows reliefs of the Entombment and Resurrection of Christ and was made by Jacobi Sausovino. It seems funny to find the name of Jacobi on this artist’s work, and I feel as if the works bearing my names belong to me, and I ought to claim them.
We next went into the Treasury of the Church where we saw beautiful Byzantine book covers, as well as the Episcopal Throne of the 7th century and an altar front in beaten silver of the 14th century. There were also valuable articles made of Turquois, rock, crystal, and agate, a chair of one of the Doges in which we all sat down for the fun of it. A very pretty statue of St. Marc in solid silver is another valuable piece of Art. We also saw the Doge’s ring, which he cast into the Adriatic once a year symbolizing the wedding of Venice to the sea. They took the precaution, however, to throw it into a net, so they could fish it up again. A rose bush of beaten gold looked good to me.
We next went home and decided to spend the greater part of the afternoon in a gondola, which is much easier than walking around. The weather was favorable and, while we crossed the lagoons, the sun came out and was welcomed by all of us. He cast his rays upon Venice and the snow capped mountains in the distance, and it made a beautiful picture, never to be forgotten.
Before we left the Grand Canal, we went into the modernized palace of the Hebrew Franchettia and saw the grand marble staircase, which is a wonder of beauty. What a pity that he does not live in this grand palace.
We also went into the S. Maria dei Miracoli, erected in 1481–89 under the superintendence of Pietro Lombardo, which church is richly encrusted with marble, both within and without. The quadrangular domed choir is peculiar as it is 14 steps higher than the nave, on the right and left are Lecterns as they had them in the old Christian Churches. The sculpture around these, and around the windows, is executed in the most delicate tracery work, and here again I came across work done by Jacobi-Lombardi brothers and other old statues and paintings.
We now rode out past the Insane Asylum to San Lazzaro in Amenian Monastery founded in 1716, where a monk received us. Passing through the beautiful garden, he took us into the chapel where I saw three windows made in Innsbruck. They had a service, and so I could not go near to them, but it was good modern work. Byron studied Armenian in 1816, and they show his ink stand and pen, also his signature and those of King Edward and Queen Alexandria. Their library contains about 30,000 volumes, and about 2,000 Armenian manuscripts. The have a modern printing office and from here they spread their literature in the Armenian language all over the world.
The ride home was fine. We took it easy and let the gasoline launch of Princess Lititia pass us without enjoying her, for we certainly enjoyed the scenery more than she did.
After dinner we took a stroll to the point where the Grand Canal joins the Giudecca Canal and listened to the singing. Many gondolas surrounded the center one, which was decorated with Venezian lanteriana and where the singers had their stand. It was a beautiful moonlight night and of course we all “raved” about Venice.