The Spinsters’ Church

I hold on as the swaying of the boat almost makes me lose my balance. I am on a vaporetto heading to the Venetian island of Giudecca. I want to see the Chiesa delle Zitelle – The Spinsters’ Church.

The sixteenth century church’s real name is Santa Maria della Presentazione. [1]  Vanity played a part in its design as it was meant to improve the view in the lagoon from St Mark’s Square. [1] (Churches play a large part of Venetian architectural life)

A photo of La Chiesa delle Zitelle - Venice, Italy

La Chiesa delle Zitelle – Venice, Italy

The ferry chugs its way across the lagoon as the church facade comes closer and closer. The white washed walls contrast with the clear July sky. It is obvious this island is more residential than the parts of the city I’ve seen so far. The rest of Venice fades into the background – the sweaty hordes, the lost tourists, the exorbitant prices.

The engine whines as someone ties the ferry to the shore. I step off and there is that split second when my inner ear is not sure if we’re still moving or not. I shake the inconsistency out of my head. To my left, the church beckons and I head towards it.

A photo of the facades on Giudecca Island - Venice, Italy

The facades on Giudecca Island – Venice, Italy

Venetian women funded it, and the adjoining hospice. They had heard the Jesuit Benedetto Palmi talk about the risk of young women leading a life of prostitution. [1] [2] [3] Being poor in the sixteenth century meant your family did not have a dowry for you which meant you couldn’t get married. Being so poor meant that young women ended in prostitution to survive. (Prostitution was legal in Venice at the time. [3]) Intriguingly, Palmi claimed that only beautiful poor women risked a life of prostitution. He wanted this Church for poor but attractive girls. [1]

History doesn’t record what happened to poor ugly girls.

It was meant as a preventative problem-solving approach; the girls were taught how to sew and play music until they turned 18. They could then choose to become nuns, or to marry. The convent took it upon itself to provide a dowry for them in such cases. [2]

This is why the church is now known as The Spinsters’ Church. [2] [3]

I walk along the promenade. The Venetian skyline pierces the blueness on my left. Boats of all sizes skim the water’s surface like pebbles with minds of their own. Life was different in the sixteenth century. How many girls stood here, looking at the city they called home, faced with a life few plan for?

A photo of the Promenade on Giudecca Island - Venice, Italy

The Promenade on Giudecca Island – Venice, Italy

Times change.

I sit at one of the bars with tables along the water’s edge in the Adriatic sun. I order an Apero Spritz which arrives with a basket of nibbles that attract the attention of a few shifty pigeons cooing for scraps. The undulating waves lap against the shore and keep me company for the rest of that afternoon in the shadow of the Chiesa delle Zitelle.

A photo of an Apero Spritz - Venice, Italy

Apero Spritz – Venice, Italy

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[1] Santa Maria della Presentazione, Fondazione Venezia Servizi Culturali (Retrieved 2017-08-14)
[2] Le Zitelle, Churches of Venice, (Retrieved 2017-08-14)
[3] Chiesa delle Zitelle,, 2016-11-30

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