The Venetian lagoon with its scattering of idyllic islands, each with their own secrets and histories to share, makes an ideal stop off on some of the best Po River cruises. Italy is rightfully proud of the region’s rich cultural history so don’t make the mistake of overlooking Venice’s islands. These provide a fascinating insight into the medieval world in which the city was created. |
The tiny island of Chioggia, in the southern end of the lagoon, is no exception. Traditionally an island of fishermen, fishing is still a major part of the tiny port’s business today. Many of the island’s buildings were erected during the same period as its more famous neighbour, with major development taking place in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
In fact, Chioggia is sometimes referred to as ‘Little Venice’. Quieter and less touristy than the famous city, Chioggia is often neglected on river cruises. Italy’s rich history exudes from its narrow cobbled streets and canals, however, and nowhere is this more evident than in the medieval Church of San Domenico with its stunning religious artworks.
The Church of San Domenico
Originally the island of Chioggia belonged to the Benedictine monks but in the thirteenth century it passed to the Dominicans who built a cloisters on the site. Damaged in the subsequent centuries, it was rebuilt in 1745 by Pietro Pelli, with only the Romanesque bell tour remaining from the earlier structure.
Having survived the centuries (and occupation by the forces of Napolean), Pelli’s impressive structure still remains today as a working church with a single altar, a chancel and two small chapels. Architecturally it is well worth visiting, but the real draw is the Renaissance artworks by the likes of Tintoretto and Carpaccio.
The Legend of the Fisherman’s Christ
One of the most beguiling sites in the church is the figure of Christ on the Cross. Known locally as ‘the cross that came from the sea’, the exact origin of the icon is still unknown. However, local legend claims that it was washed up on the island thanks to divine intervention
There are several theories as to where the Christ figure started life, and each has its own merits. Local restorers who worked on the cross in 2004 date the icon from some time in the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. They believe that it was probably the work of an artist from Strasbourg.
Local folklore, however, maintains that it was made by Nicodemus, one of Christ’s disciples. The story has it that it was being transported to Venice in the thirteenth century on the request of Saint Peter Martyr. The boat it was travelling on was shipwrecked, and it was washed up in Chioggia. Another tale is that it was actually created by Saint Luke and was displayed in Constantinople. When the city was invaded by the Turks in 1453 local Christian soldiers threw it into the sea so that it wouldn’t be destroyed, and it ended up on the Venetian island.
Whatever the truth, the history and stories of the Fisherman’s Christ make it a fascinating sight to seek out, as well as making Chioggia a destination not to be missed if you’re enjoying any of the Po River cruises. Italy has much to offer visitors interested in medieval artefacts, and travelling by boat is an ideal way to immerse yourself in this fascinating culture.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury river cruises and barge holidays throughout Europe. If you're looking for the most exciting and relaxing river cruises, Italy is an ideal choice. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.
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