San Zanipolo is a minor basilica located in the Castello district of Venice. The designation of minor basilica is a technical one, and can be deceiving, as this is one of the largest churches in all of Venice, and the single largest church in the Castello district. The official name of the church is the Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo. Spoken in the Venetian dialect, it has been transmuted to San Zanipolo. This massive Italian Gothic construct serves as the main Dominican church in the city of Venice. It is dedicated to Saint John and Saint Paul, but not Christ’s apostles of the same titles. Rather, this ancient church in Venice commemorates the lives and sacrifices of two martyrs for early Christianity in Rome named John and Paul.
Christianity was splitting into different sects, and the Dominicans and Franciscans were two of the major groups that splintered but did not stray, but rather received approval from the Catholic church to carry on their activities. In the year 1246, the Doge of Venice, Jacopo Tiepolo, gave what was then only swampy marshland to the Dominicans on which to construct their church. It is said that Doge Tiepolo did so after dreaming of a flock of white doves passing over the area where the church would be built. Construction began shortly thereafter, but the first permutation of San Zanipolo was constructed in less than 80 years, in 1333. Construction began anew and the church that is extant today and able to be visited and toured was completed in 1430. When you tour this church in Venice, you will be able to understand how the plans for this church were to be able to accommodate large numbers of people.
There are a number of alluring attractions at the Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo. The nave, or main chamber of the church is a splendid attraction on its own, with its cross-vaulted ceiling, formidable columns, and ancient statuary and reliefs. The tomb of Pietro Mocenigo, which dates back to 1481, is located in the church right next to the impressive doorway designed by the renowned Italian designer and architect Bartomoleo Bon. Pietro is perhaps the most famous representative of this family that produced seven doge’s for Venice. Pietro was also the most celebrated military leader, winning victories for Venice against the Ottoman Empire and others.
Perhaps the most impressive work of art in the entire Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo is the polyptych by Bellinni. It is a gorgeous painting that was completed in 1465 that depicts a Spanish priest named Vincent Ferrer surrounded by the likes of Saint Christopher and Saint Sebastian.
In a city full of beautiful and historically significant churches, such as St. Mark's Basilica, San Zanipolo is one of the most important. If you are paying a visit to the city of Venice, you a tour of this unbelievably gorgeous church is worth adding to the itinerary. This is one church in Venice that you will not want to pass up. The art alone is worth the trip, let alone the fabulous interior of the building with all of its monuments to the church and the state.