the canals of Venice, the early
hours of April 30th, 1867, Saint Pio’s Day
Company of Christ and the Good Death
The Company of Christ and the Good Death was indeed devoted to taking dead bodies out of the water. Sometimes also known as la Confraternita del Santissimo Crocefisso, the association’s foundation in 1635 was marked by the construction of a little chapel with an altar under a portico (now demolished) of the church of San Marcuola, near Venice’s ghetto.
In 1643 began the building of the current edifice in the street now known as the Rio tera del Cristo. It was pronounced, on its completion the following year, to be "in bellissima forma".
On the façade, in white Istrian stone, an inscription records that from 1640 the Scuola was allied to a similar confraternity in Rome which also "esercitava quella di portarsi a raccogliere i corpi degli annegati non conosciuti per dar loro onorevole sepoltura".
At the entrance, on the Rio Tera drio la Chiesa, to the right is still visible the 'abate’ or large stone that served as an anchor for the standard of the Scuola.
In the Scuola's early days, there was no cemetery at San Michele. This joining of the islands of San Michele and San Cristoro was a Napoleonic invention. Until the early nineteenth century, the Venetian dead were usually buried in campi di morti near the parish churches. Opposite la Scuola at San Marcuola is a raised piece of land, usually a sign of one those burial grounds. It easy to imagine that quiet corner as a resting place for the drowned bodies of the unknown.
If God had wanted Venetians to be fish, He would have given then an acquarium, not a city.
And who wouldn't like to know of the comforting existence of some modern Company of the Good Death to be vigilant, waiting for to recover the unknown dead from what ever accidents might have befallen them?
The idea of tending to the dead is one of the basic decencies of civilization.
This week I've been working in a writers' boot camp in Venice with fellow History Girls Mary Hoffman and Louisa Young and this idea was discussed between us. An agreed conclusion between us was that writing a person's true history is a way of offering them a decent burial too. We did not agree as to whether there needed to be something essentially redeeming in the way of recording a life, or whether some lives were irredeemably sad and that this fact should be recorded too.
Those of you working on the lives of the happy or the sad may have some thoughts about this?