Church of San Nicolo dei Mendicoli


About the project

The church of San Nicolo dei Mendicoli dates to the 7th century, contemporary with the cathedral of Torcello. It retains some features of early Veneto-Byzantine design such as the layout with a partition between nave and chancel, the campanile and the  western porch.  The nave capitals date from the 14th century and include a portrait of the original patronal saint: the Serbian martyr St. Niceta. The gilded wooden carvings were added to the medieval arcades in the 1580s at the same time as much of the rich ornament, the choir loft and the cycle of paintings.

With the Venetian heritage authorities directing the work, Venice in Peril funded first, the reroofing of the church, then an innovative waterproof membrane to protect the marble paving.  The brickwork of the lower walls of the church were rebuilt with a damp-course and a technique called ‘scuci-cuci’ (patching of bricks).  All the gilded wooden sculptures and the iconostasis (or screen) underwent treatment in a laboratory at Ca’d’Oro.  The stonework of a delicate side altar was repaired and the baroque  organ, which has a historic instrument designation, was removed for full repair and conservation before being reinstalled.

In the same period, the conservation of the cycle of paintings above the arcades was funded by the government.

In 1980 heating and lighting were installed with half the funding coming from  Venice in Peril. To support the sustainability of activities in the parish, a further scheme to restore and install services in the adjoining Oratory was undertaken between 1991-96. 

Project location

In brief

  • San Nicolo and Venice in Peril have shared a close association going back almost 50 years.
  • The low lying church has been one of the worst affected by increasing frequency and extremes of Acqua Alta.
  • In 2020, after the critical flooding of late 2019, a new project to extend drainage channels to take away water rising up through the sanctuary around the altar was begun. Together with the provision of new light, higher barriers at the doors, the work should be complete ahead of the 2021 Acqua Alta season. Funding raised through the Acqua Alta 2019 Appeal made this possible.
  • Between 1972 and 1996 Venice in Peril   – together with the Italian State – completed a series of projects at San Nicolo dei Mendicoli, from the structural restoration of the church and its furnishings to the installation of services in both the church and the adjoining Oratory to support the work of the parish.
  • Historically this area of Venice has been especially vulnerable to flooding and continuing intervention is needed even with the MOSE barriers in operation. 
  • STOP PRESS –  San Nicolò dei Mendicoli is the focus of  the December 2022 conference in the series Chiese di Venezia, Nuove Prospettive di Ricerca. Each edition looks at a  single Venetian church. Click here for the call for papers (deadline 15/6/21) and further details.

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