Basilica of San Pietro Di Castello

Venice, Italy

Background

From the ninth century until 1807, when Saint Mark’s Basilica became Venice’s official cathedral, the Church of San Pietro di Castello functioned as the spiritual and administrative religious center of the city. Erected on the island of Castello at the eastern edge of the Venetian lagoon, the Church of San Pietro underwent several renovations and reconstructions during its long history. In the 1480s, the architect Mauro Codussi (also known as Coducci) largely rebuilt the church’s bell tower with white Istrian stone. Andrea Palladio planned modifications to the structure again in the late 1550s, though his designs were not fully executed. At the end of the 16th century, the architects Francisco Smeraldi and Giovanni Grapiglia completed a new façade for the Church. Three hundred years later, after losing its preeminent spot to St. Mark’s, San Pietro fell into a state of relative neglect. The church was firebombed during the First World War and, though rebuilt, continued to decline due to insufficient funding and general neglect.

How We Helped

WMF’s extensive work at San Pietro di Castello began in 1970 with conservation of church window casings, floors, walls, and stone and wooden furnishings. Conservationists restored walls to their original marmorino finish, replaced damaged pavement blocks with new ones, corrected loose or damaged stonework, and restored church portals. San Pietro also required several larger-scale interventions, including repairs to its bell tower and cracked bell, and restoration of its 18th-century Nacchini organ. In the first case, WMF repaired both bell tower and bell in situ, replacing missing portions of the metal rim. In the second, conservationists refinished the organ’s original Baroque cabinet, returned its registers to their original order, and replaced irreparable parts within the instrument.

Why It Matters

Neglected and underutilized, the Church of San Pietro di Castello had, by 1970, become little more than a local parish church, its historic role as a major religious institution largely forgotten. WMF’s efforts restored the high quality of design that characterized the church and denoted its high ecclesiastical importance during its 11-century history. Successful conservation of the site, whose remoteness had contributed to its relative lack of attention, yielded not only a resurgence in visitors,but also made San Pietro a premier site for organ concerts, an attraction for both renowned organists and interested audiences.

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