Venice’s Lost Church Found Beneath St. Mark’s

The Lost Church of San Geminiano

The wall and floor ruins under Piazza San Marco

The wall and floor ruins under Piazza San Marco

Unearthing the Past Beneath St. Mark’s Square

Recent excavations in Venice, specifically under the iconic St. Mark’s Square, have unearthed what could be the remnants of the ancient Church of San Geminiano. This significant find was made during a restoration project aimed at repairing the square’s stone blocks, known locally as “masegni,” which had been damaged by flooding. The Archaeological, Fine Arts, and Landscape Superintendency of the municipality announced this discovery, highlighting the uncovering of walls, various flooring levels, and a tomb dating back to the Early Middle Ages, all believed to be part of one of the city’s oldest known churches, which had been lost to history until now.

The Excavation Process

The excavation, led by Dr. Sara Bini of the Venice Superintendency, initially focused on repairing the recent pavement of the square but soon expanded to cover the area around the Procuratie Vecchie, the former official seats of the Procurators of San Marco during the Venetian Republic. This expansion led to the center of the square itself. In the process, the team discovered walls and flooring layers predating the year 1000, hidden beneath the square’s current pavement. Among these findings were a brick pavement laid in a herringbone pattern and an even older layer of flooring beneath it.

A Glimpse into Early Medieval Life

In addition to the architectural remnants, the excavation team uncovered a communal burial site with the remains of at least five individuals, including a child aged between eight and ten years and a woman, all dating from the 7th to the 8th century. Burials next to or inside worship buildings were common in ancient times, often with multiple deceased placed in the same grave. This practice, coupled with the presence of the church of San Geminiano and cemeteries typically developed around a nearby place of worship, strongly suggests that the structures and pavements found belong to the church itself, offering insights into one of Venice’s oldest worship buildings.

The Significance of San Geminiano

The Church of San Geminiano predates the construction of St. Mark’s Basilica and the current layout of the square. It holds particular importance as one of Venice’s oldest churches and because of its association with the early Doges of the Venetian Republic, earning it the nickname “Church of the Doges.” Over time, urban changes led to the church being moved and eventually demolished in 1807 by Napoleon. Its original location in the center of St. Mark’s Square had never been pinpointed until these excavations. If these findings are confirmed, the discovered remains would belong to the church’s initial structure.

Historical excavations conducted between 1885 and 1889 by Federico Berchet and Giacomo Boni had previously uncovered walls in this area of the square but were unable to contextualize them historically. Thanks to Berchet’s highly accurate excavation map, researchers today have formulated these hypotheses about the church’s original location.

Sources

  • redazione Cultura. (2024, February 22). Venezia, trovati i resti di una chiesa antichissima sotto piazza San Marco. La Repubblica; la Repubblica. https://www.repubblica.it/cultura/2024/02/22/news/venezia_trovati_i_resti_di_una_chiesa_antichissima_sotto_piazza_san_marco-422184670/

  • From the trenches- Thursday, February 22, 2024. (2024). Quora. https://archaeologyunearthed.quora.com/From-the-trenches-Thursday-February-22-2024?ch=15&oid=151144788&share=79390b1f&target_type=post

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