Although Venice’s Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari is considered to be one of the greatest churches in the city, few day trippers to Venice may see it. Even with a campanile that rivals that of San Marco (the second tallest in the city) and a canal side location right in the heart of Venice’s San Polo district, the minor basilica remains just off the tourist flow. It’s unassuming appearance belies the masterful artwork inside and the inward serenity of this Franciscan basilica elevate it above the sometimes frantic pace of sightseeing in Venice.
Guidebooks like Frommer’s and Foder’s showcase this Gothic treasure noting that it contains some of the most brilliant paintings in any Venetian church. Titian’s altarpiece of the Assumption of Mary, a multi-tiered masterpiece is located here. Painted between 1516- 1518 it is arguably one of the great works of the Renaissance effusively spilling over with color, composition and detail that is overwhelming (the painting measures 270″ × 140″ and is 22′ high). I was drawn to visit the Basilica because of its connection with the Franciscan Friars (frari is the Venetian dialect for frati or brothers). I’m a Franciscan fan having visited Assisi and La Verna and having many friar friends in the States. So Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari was on my must see list when in Venice as it should be yours.
The glorious art of the Basilica rivals any found in a world-class museum with breathtaking works by many of the A-list artists of the Renaissance (Titian, Donatello, Bellini) including a unique pyramid-shaped monument to the Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova he originally designed as a tomb for Titian.
The imposing architecture and amazing art of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari is punctuated by the central nave of the basilica with the orginal stalls of the old friar’s choir (the only example in Venice where they have maintained the original location and structure). The 124 wooden carved choir stalls stand in silent testimony to the Franciscans and the profound impact they have on all who seek the calm and gentle spirituality of St. Francis. The basilica is located on the Campo dei Frari near shops and a canal side pizzeria that is a favorite.