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San Michele: the Cemetery Island

The cemetery island on San Michele lies just across the water from Venice’s Fondamente Nuove. The bodies of Venetians were traditionally buried in church graveyards in Venice, but for reasons of hygiene and space, San Michele monastery island and its agricultural neighbor of St. Cristorforo were joined and designated as cemeteries in the 19th century by Napoleon’s Edict.

The church of San Michele in Isola stands by the landing stage. Designed by Mauro Codussi, it was the first church in Venice to be faced in white Istrian stone as well as Codussi the Baptistery, with a fine white dome whose graceful lines seem to float on the water.

Most of San Michele is covered by the cemetery, where Venetians are buried in tiers of stone coffin drawers or rest under an assortment of monuments. Some graves have suffered neglect, but most are well-tended and enlivened with flowers.

The most famous graves are those of foreigners Ezra Pound, in the Protestant section, and Sergei Diaghilev and Igor Stravinsky in the Orthodox section. These bodies have been allowed to rest in peace. Most others are dug up after about ten years to make way for new arrivals and the bones taken to the island of Sant’Ariano.

Today, however, because of increasing lack of space on San Michele, most bodies are buried on the mainland.
See location on map and pictures of St. Michele’s famous graves here: 

San Michele

Isola di San Michele, Cimitero di Venezia

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