The cemetery of virgins

Is there someone amongst you who didn’t arrive in Venice at the Santa Lucia train station? Once you leave the building and step out into the sun you are welcomed by the Grand Canal and the Church of San Simeon Piccolo on the other side of the canal. One of the most spectacular views in the city!

But it’s only since about 160 years that a train station is sitting in this very same spot on the Grand Canal.

The excavation works

It was a cold winter in the 1930ies when dozens of men were shovelling the area right here … or better tried to do so as the ground was frozen because of the high amount of water. (We are in a lagoon/swamp after all!) The Austrian train station from the 1860ies was supposed to be substituted only 70 years after its construction by a new building. (The fascist architecture, its hard cold lines, is still clearly identifiable today.)

The treasure

Suddenly one of the men hit something hard with his shovel. A treasure? He was very excited and called his colleague continuing to dig and uncovering two chests. In the meantime they had also called who was in charge and opened together the chests: Two skeletons were holding white candles in their bony fingers. Other workers had, in the meantime, laid bare other loose bones and skulls filled with white candles and … cords.

These cords belonged to the nuns that were buried here. The proof that this area had been a cemetery were not only the cords of the cowls, but also the white candles that symbolized the oaf of chastity.

It is still a mystery how big this cemetery actually is, but it is a fact that the bones of the nuns are still lying under the rails of the trainstation Santa Lucia. Venetians call it the Cemetery of the Virgins.

So yes, when you walk into the trainstation you actually walk above the graves of the nuns!

The trainstation today – Source: Di Abxbay – Opera propria, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Saint Lucy

The relics of Saint Lucy of Syracuse were treasured in the homonymous church on the Grand Canal until Austria decided to take it down to make space for the new train station that still today remembers the former church with its name „Saint Lucy“, just like a memorial slab in front of the train station. The relics of Saint Lucy were brought to the nearby church of San Geremia (the first big square you can spot on your way to Rialto).

Source: Wikimedia – Painting by Canaletto – The church of Saint Lucy is the first one on the left

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