Sculpted on the façade of Palazzo Soranzo, San Marco you will see an angel holding a globe decorated with a cross. Above the angel there is not only a badly damaged fresco of the Virgin and Child between two angels but also a hole, and it is the hole that is associated with a very strange story dating back to 1552.
At the time, this building was home to a lawyer in the ducal Chancellery. Though he had acquired his wealth dishonestly, the man affected a devout public persona, and one day he invited the Capuchin monk Matteo da Bascio to dinner. Having been told that all the household duties in the palazzo were performed by a trained monkey, the cleric asked to see the monkey. But when it was produced, the cleric immediately recognised it as the Devil in disguise and set to asking it questions. The Devil told him that he was there to carry off the lawyer’s soul to hell – a fate he deserved for a vast number of reasons but which he had so far avoided because every evening he said a prayer to the Virgin before going to bed. The very moment he would forget that prayer, the Devil said, his soul would be carried off to eternal damnation.
Father Matteo ordered the satanic animal out of the house, but the monkey would only agree to leave if he was allowed to do some damage. The priest accepted, on one condition, that it was he himself who chose what damage should be done. Hence, the only act of destruction he allowed the Devil to make was this large hole he made when leaving the palazzo – a mark that would serve evermore to show he had been there.
Father Matteo sat down to eat with the lawyer, reproaching him for the errors of his past life. To illustrate this point, he took a napkin and twisted it, causing blood to flow from the fabric. That, he told the lawyer, was the blood of all the poor people he had exploited. Seized by remorse, the lawyer wept bitterly and thanked the monk for the grace he had obtained. However, he said he was worried that the Devil might return through the hole he had made in the palazzo wall. Don Matteo reassured him, suggesting that he raise a statue of an angel near the hole – that would be more than sufficient to drive off any evil spirit trying to enter the building.
So next time you are in Venice, take a walk along the north wall of St. Mark’s Basilica, continue along Calle Canonica until you come to the so-called Ponte dell’ Angelo, where you will get the best view of angel sculpted to prevent the Devil from ever re-entering the Palazzo Soranzo.
(Adapted from Secret Venice by Thomas Jonglez and Paola Zoffoli)