Hopefully everyone knows that Rome has four major basilicas.
A pilgrimage to the Apostolic See of St. Peter involves visiting these four churches: 1. St. Peter’s tomb at the Vatican. 2. St. Paul’s tomb, at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. 3. The cathedral of Rome, St. John Lateran. 4. St. Mary Major.
The pilgrim who visits all four obtains an indulgence. I have had the privilege of leading pilgrims to the four majors not once, but twice, in 2006 and 2008. Also, I have visited them as a private pilgrim on three other occasions.
Far be it from me to suggest that Venice stands as a kind of ‘second Rome.’ Yes, you don’t have to evade speeding motorini in Venice; you just listen to the burbling of vaporetto propellers in the canals–which many travelers probably prefer. But only Rome is Rome. Only the bishop of Rome is the pope. Only Rome has four official major basilicas.
I would like humbly to suggest, though, that Venice also has four major basilicas. For the pilgrim to visit.
Unofficial “majors.” Rome has the tomb of St. Peter, prince of the Apostles. But Venice has the tomb of St. Mark–briefest of the Evangelists, which has to count for something.
Granted: Most of the people who trundle themselves to Venice do so in order to ride in gondolas and take selfies. But some venture there as pilgrims, out of devotion to God and His saints.
So I propose these “four majors” of the Serene City.
I include these four because they stand on the major islands of the city, rather than on remote, secondary islands.
St. Mark’s and Santa Maria della Salute face each other across the opening of the Grand Canal, which flows like an S through the city, and divides it into two parts. The Frari and San Zenipolo stand on opposite sides, buried inland, deep in the neighborhoods.
1. St. Mark’s marks the center of Venice. All the canals, and all the alleyways, ultimately lead there.
(No reasonable person tries to use a map in Venice. The alleys have names, but it’s practically impossible to know what those names are. You just follow the signs for either San Marco or the Rialto, and eventually you wind up somewhere good.)
Believe it or not, I found the interior of the basilica that houses my baptismal patron’s relics rather underwhelming. Yes, the gold mosaics glitter all over the walls.
But the church seems considerably more impressive and mysterious on the outside than it does on the inside. Inside, to be honest, St. Mark’s seems a little dingy.
2. Santa Maria della Salute sits right on the water, across from San Marco. The early seventeen-century Venetians built this octagonal geometric masterpiece to thank our Lady for saving them from the plague.
3. Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari sits on the same side of the Grand Canal as Santa Maria della Salute.
4. Santi Giovanni e Paolo, aka San Zenipolo (back on the San Marco side of Grand Canal)
…Venice has other basilicas that a pilgrim could profitably cross the earth just to visit. Like San Gregorio Maggiore, which looms across the lagoon from Piazza San Marco, on an island all its own. Or San Pietro di Castello, the original cathedral of Venice, which I mentioned in an earlier post.
I never made it to Guidecca island to see the Redentore, or to Torcello island to see the really ancient cathedral (going back to before Venice became Venice), with it’s world-famous apse mosaic:
Also, Venice has other, smaller churches aplenty, many of which deserve encomiums beyond my ability to produce.
Like Santa Maria dei Miracoli, which sits quietly by a small, largely un-used canal, unassumingly waiting to send you into a rapture upon entering…
…So, yes: Venice is not Rome. But it does indeed have some seriously major basilicas and churches. Worth going on pilgrimage to pray in.