Santa Maria dei Miracoli, also known as the Marble Church, is located in the Sestiere of Cannaregio in Venice. The church, one of the finest examples of the Venetian Renaissance, utilizes colored marble, has a false colonnade on the exterior walls, and a semicircular pediment.
It was built between 1481 and 1489 by Pietro Lombardo and his sons to house a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary, The Virgin and Child. In Venice, the state generally paid for the construction of churches, but the funds for the construction of Miracoli came from local citizens and devotees of the miraculous image.
By the end of 1484, the available funds far exceeded the costs of construction, so the Procurators decided to expand upon the existing plan. The revised plan called for the addition of a chancel and for the construction of a convent beside the church. The convent was connected to the gallery of the church by an enclosed walkway that was later destroyed.
Pietro Lombardo completed the construction in 1489 and on December 31 of that same year, twelve nuns from the Franciscan convent of Santa Chiara (Saint Clare) in Murano, took up residence in the convent and attended the consecration of the new church. The small yet sumptuous architectural marvel, financed by public donations from grateful supplicants, stands as a lavish symbol of Venetian self-reliance and pride.
The interior is enclosed by a wide barrel vault with a single nave. The nave is dominated by an ornamental marble stair rising between two pulpits, with statues by Tullio Lombardo, Alessandro Vittoria and Nicolò di Pietro. The vaulted ceiling is divided into fifty coffers decorated with paintings of the prophets' faces, a work by Gerolamo Pennacchi's brother, Vincenzo dalle Destre and Lattanzio da Rimini.
An exquisite masterpiece of the early Renaissance, the Miracoli is the favourite church of many Venetians and the most popular venue for Venetian weddings, often filled with flowers. Tucked away in a maze of alleys and waterways in eastern Cannaregio, it is small and somewhat elusive, but well worth the effort needed to find it.
Often likened to a jewel box, the façade is decorated with various shades of marble, with fine sculptures. The painting, The Virgin and Child, by Nicolo di Petro, can still be seen above the altar.
The interior of the church, which ideally should be visited when sunlight shines through the windows, is embellished with pink, white and grey marble, and crowned by a barrel vaulted ceiling which has 50 portraits of Saints and Prophets. Above the main door, the choir gallery was used by nuns from the neighbouring convent, who entered the church through an overhead gallery.
The Miracoli has recently undergone a major restoration funded by the America Save Venice organization.