The Island of Murano in the Venetian lagoon has one of the most ancient churches, the Church of Santa Maria e San Donato. There are incredible legends associated with the church. The historians are divided as to the origin and the person who had founded this magnificent edifice which celebrates an old world artistic excellence.
It is said that the church was established in the 7th century and rebuilt more than once after that. It is recorded that the latest renovation was conducted in 1140. But many are of opinion that parts of it were rebuilt several times after that.
A nother legend holds emperor Otto I responsible for the establishment of the church. It is said that he was involved in an extremely dangerous situation in a terrible storm in the Adriatic Sea and prayed to Virgin Mary for deliverance, promising to build a church for her. It is believed that the storm abated and a spirit guided him to Murano and he built the Church of Santa Maria there. The only snag in the legend is that the Emperor Otto I lived in the 10th century and the Church of Santa Maria is said to have existed long before that.
History says that there were dire competition and quarrels between the parishes in Murano. Each one wanted to establish the dominance of their church and parish. Doge Domenico Michele found a way to establish the superiority of the church of Santa Maria once and for all. He found the relics of St. Donato and preserved in the church and thereafter the church was also dedicated to San Donato.
San Donato is said to have killed a dragon to stop it from poisoning a well. There are four long bones preserved at the back of the alter that contains the sarcophagus of San Donato. These are real bones that b elonged to an extinct mammal. The believers say that they are the dragon bones. In short, the history of the church is shrouded in mystery.
The architecture of the church makes it special. It is a marvellous example of Byzantine art. The bell tower of the church is built separately near the church. Both the bell tower and the church are built with large brown stones and they are left without plastering. This enhances the old world charm of the church. The east side of the church, facing the canal looks extremely grand because of the spectacular colonnades. The actual front of the church is on the west side but not so picturesque. The inlaid floor and the gold glass mosaic dome betray the superior artistic prowess of the Byzantine artists.
The tourists are allowed in the church only at certain times. The church will be open only in the mornings and late afternoons on week days and late afternoons on Sundays. A small entrance fee is collected during the season; but otherwise entry is free. But most of the tourists contribute a small amount towards the maintenance of the church. The church is well preserved and it is one of the main tourist attractions of the Island.
by Marina Chernyak
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