The first Christian basilica was built on the site currently occupied by the adjoining church of St Elena. St Zeno consecrated this building between 362 and 380, but it soon became too small an a larger basilica was built. Remains of the first of these early churches can be seen under St Elena, of the second remains can be seen beneath the cloister. This second building collapsed during the 7th century, possibly due to fire or earthquake, and the 8th-9th century (Carolingian) replacement was built on the site of the current church. This church was itself destroyed by an earthquake in 1117 and a new one built which was finally reconsecrated by Urban III on September 13th 1187. The interior was rebuilt in gothic style from 1444 into the 16th century when the aisle-divisions, side chapels and the choir screen were built.
The main doorway is the 1140 work of Master Nicol˛, the 12th century sculptor who carved the fašade of San Zeno. Two arches containing sculptural reliefs are supported on columns with statues with griffins at the base. The two large lateral Gothic windows were inserted during the 15th century work. The side entrance (see the old print right) has reliefs dating to before Master Nicol˛'s work.
A nave and two aisles divided by tall columns of clusters of small columns in red Verona marble. This is a church with fewer side chapels than you'd think, because they're all big and each has lots of surrounding frescos conforming to a type representing monuments with statues. Also not the brightest church due to mostly small clerestory windows.
The first chapel on the left contains a somewhat restrained Assumption by Titian of c. 1530, his only work in Verona, and not a patch on his earlier monumental Assumption in the Frari in Venice for complexity of dramatic colouring. The surrounding chapel (see below right) was renovated for the Nichesola family around the same time by Jacopo Sansovino. The frescoes on the wall are late 14th century.
The second chapel has late 14th century wall frescoes by Antonio Badile.
The fourth chapel, the Chapel of the Madonna del Popolo, is deeper, almost making a baroque transept with the chapel opposite, and has a reliquary urn containing the thorn with which local martyr saints Fermo and Rustico were killed.
Just before this chapel is the (ever closed) door to the Sacristy of the Canons of 1625. The ceiling is decorated with a stucco scene depicting the patron of the Chapter, St. George Killing the Dragon, attributed to David Reti. The altarpiece is The Virgin and Child by Claudio Ridolfi.
Under the organ, which is decorated with paintings by Felice Brusasorci, is the door which opens into a Romanesque atrium which leads, straight on, into the church of Saint Elena and to the right to the Baptistery.
Saint Elena is reached by passing over the excavated remains of the early 4th-century basilica. The church itself is a single nave space renovated after the earthquake of 1117. The altarpiece from 1573-9 depicts The Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints Stephen, Zeno, George and Helen by Felice Brusasorci. The gallery at the back has worn trompe l'oeil balustrade. The outside wall has an inscription stating that Dante read his first oration, the famous Question of Water and Earth (Quaestio de acqua et terra) beneath the 15th century portico here in 1320.
The Baptistery, called San Giovanni in Fonte, (see photo below) was rebuilt around 1123 on the site of the original 8th-9th century baptistery. It has a nave and two aisles and is dominated by a large 13th-century octagonal font made from red Verona marble, with eight carved scenes from the Annunciation to the Baptism of Christ. These panels are by two hands: Briolato, also responsible for the Wheel of Fortune window in San Zeno, and an anonymous master, whose style is more typically Venetian/Byzantine. There's a processional Crucifix here too, attributed to Giovanni Badile from the early 15th century and fresco fragments from the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. Also a Virgin and Child with Saints Stephen and Martin (1514) by Giovanni Caroto tucked away sharp into the back of the right-hand aisle. Also a large Baptism of Christ by Farinati over the door.
Back in the Cathedral, the apse has a semi-circular polychrome marble screen of Ionic columns, the tornacoro, designed by Michele Sanmicheli and commissioned by reforming Bishop Gian Matteo Ghiberti and foreshadowing the architectural influence of the Council of Trent. It dates to 1534, as does the trompe l'oeil frescoing by Francesco Torbido which was based on preparatory sketches by Giulio Romano.
Back up the right hand side, the deep baroque chapel is the Memo Chapel and is followed by two chapels with fresco surrounds by Giovanni Maria Falconetto. The right-hand one of the pair, the Calcasoli chapel, (just past the cash desk) has a small Adoration of the Magi (c.1485) by Liberale da Verona, somewhat overpopulated and with a worrying pile of pink putti looking like blancmange behind the Virgin. It is surrounded in its frame by paintings of saints and an Entombment by Nicolo Giolfino. The last chapel, opposite the Titian, has frescoes around it attributed to Antonio Badile. In front of its altarpiece is a somewhat gruesome little group of The Martyrdom of San Arcadio by sculptor Angelo Sartori.
Cannaregio :: Castello :: Dorsoduro :: Giudecca :: San Marco :: San Polo :: Santa Croce :: The Islands :: Demolished