Home of a higgledy-piggledy art blog … 

Sant’ Aponal (La Grande Flip Flop)

The church is to be found in the teeny tiny Sestiere of San Polo (where I now live). Today, I promised myself to haul my arse out of the house and look at something (arty and old) I hadn’t yet seen in the city. Laziness ensured it to be the closest building with no permitted entry. Sant’ Aponal was perfect. 

It’s closed permanently. Only visible from the front. And, unlike in this photograph, has quite a bit of draped and dangling scaffolding. 

The facade is visible, however, and beautiful, albeit a bit weird due to the much later window additions and odd marble reliefs that look blue tacked on. 

Despite having walked by the church many times, it is a building I have often missed. Worse still, the eyesore of a tourist restaurant, with its plastic ‘conservatory’ and grotty heaters, also on the little square, I somehow remember well. 

It is, unsurprisingly, not a functioning church.

Now for some history: 

It was founded in the 11th century by two families from Ravenna, who came to Venice and named the church after the patron saint of their native city, Sant Apollinare (aka Aponal in Venetian dialect – because why have five syllables when you can have three). For the über nerds, the families were called Sciavola and Rampana.  

In 1407 it was rebuilt into (mostly) what we see today. 

Everything was tickety boo for a few centuries. The only changes were aesthetic, mainly involving  the jazzing up of the interior. 

Then came 1797, and hot-chocolate-extraordinaire, Napoleon (along with the Austrians) took over Venice. Poor three-syllable Sant’A was deconsecrated, and along with its turn of fortune, its pretty furnishings and art were nicked.

Over the next period it was battered and bruised regularly, used as a mill, night housing for the poor, and a prison.

After a series of odd sales and re-sales, it was briefly reconsecrated again in the nineteenth century. 

The long-held ‘sod-off’ approach to this little church as a monument of dignity and worship was, however, not yet over. And, it was, again, deconsecrated more permanently in the twentieth century.

(Until, that is, someone turns it into a proper church again. Or a prison. Again. Or more likely, a food-free bakery. Or vegan pet store. Or both). 

All its incarnations make it the greatest of flippity flops. 

(Wikipedia tells me it is now an archive, I think of marriage certificates. I hope nothing too valuable is held inside since some of its windows are broken – Possiblement an idea for a quickie divorce?).

The facade’s only major decorations are:

1) An Istrian marble relief of the crucifixion above the rose window (Thieves!). (Also, 14th century). 

2) Another relief (pictured here) showing The Crucifixion with the Virgin and St. John the Evangelist under a Gothic arch. (It possibly comes from a demolished altar in the original church). Below the main figures we find depictions of The Agony in the Garden and Doubting Thomas. (dated to 1294). 

3) A small relief of the Virgin and Child Enthroned under the rose window (early 16th century). 


A Western Art History blog by someone who sometimes gets paid  to read and write about Western Art History. Mostly Old Masters. Mostly Italian. Hopefully accurate.

Top Posts