One of the major and most beautiful Campi in Venice, near one of my favourite spots (the bookshop Acqua Alta), is for sure the Campo di Santa Maria Formosa with the homonymous church (latin „formosa“ = beautiful) built by the bishop Magno of Oderzo during the Langobard attacks in the VIIth century.
According to a legend, the bishop Magno saw the Virgin Mary in his dreams asking him to built a church in her honour in the very same place where he would see a white cloud coming to a stop. (Actually, when I come to think about it, quite a lot of churches in Venice were built due to such dreams, visions, … of saints.)
The church was in the beginning a simple hut built of hay and clay (and btw. the first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the Venetian lagoon!) rebuilt probably in 842 by Giovanni Sanudo.
The church was rebuilt several times during Venetian history, but the most important interventions took place in 1106, when a huge fire destroyed the church (and also the Ducal Palace and the Saint Mark’s Church), and in 1491 when Mauro Codussi started to rebuilt the severly damaged church according to the new ideals of Renaissance architecture. (Mauro Codussi died before seeing the church completed.)
The Festa delle Marie
As the church was for a long time the only church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it was very important during the „Festa della Marie“ that is still celebrated nowadays during Carnival (the procession with the 12 Maries and the Doge ended in this very church).
The main face of Santa Maria Formosa
is dedicated to the capitano da mar Vincenzo Cappello (and sponsored by the family Cappello) and a second face of the church (facing the Campo) to other important members of the family Cappello.
Partial destruction of the church during the 1st World War
A slab next to the entrance commemorates the destruction of the cupola on the 9th of August 2016 by the Austrian army.
Most important piece of art Trittico della Misericordia by Vivarini
Additional information: Chorus Pass