Church of San Zaccaria

Venice, Italy | C.1515

Photo Credit: George Xypolitos

Today, this Venetian jewel draws in visitors with its ornate facade and its ancient, canal-flooded crypt. But long ago, on its most fateful night, the Church of San Zaccaria played host to a very special visitor, only he wasn’t exactly in town for a sightseeing tour. Our story begins with an angry mob and a Pope on the run…

The year was 855, and Pope Benedict III was in some serious trouble. Supporters of Benedict’s rival, the “Antipope”, disputed the papal election and incited a violent uprising. The rightful Pope fled Rome in the ensuing frenzy and headed north, eventually finding life-saving refuge in the quiet monastery attached to this church.

Once the coast was clear, Benedict returned to the Vatican, but he never forgot the kindness he was shown in Venice. He gifted the monastery a vast collection of holy relics that featured what is said to have been a piece of the True Cross… yes, *that* cross. But sadly, a couple centuries later, many nuns and most of the papal collection were lost to a devastating fire that destroyed the complex.

Fortunately, the San Zaccaria made a comeback, and visitors are now welcomed into the church under much happier circumstances. The building was reconstructed in the 15th century and still stands today with its signature combination of Gothic and Renaissance features.

Ever since Benedict’s stay, the church has honored its legacy as a place of shelter — perhaps no longer for the Pope, but certainly for countless Adventurers, seeking refuge from the crowded canals and eager for a brief glimpse into the storied history of this magical city on the water.

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