The Runaway Elephant

Sant' Antonin, Venice
I have always wanted to visit the church of Sant'Antonin ever since I read about the runaway elephant. The church is normally always closed, but this year it is hosting one of the events of the Biennale and so, until November 22nd, its doors are open (10-18) six days a week (closed on Mondays and NOT Tuesdays, as stated on the Biennale's own website!). 

Sant'Antonin was founded by the Badoer family in the seventh century. It was reconstructed in the twelfth century and again in the seventeenth century, possibly to designs by Baldassare Longhena. The bell tower was added in 1750. The interior of Sant' Antonin, with its large square nave, is much more spacious than I'd imagined.  

As I looked around I couldn't help pondering the fate of the poor elephant. On March 16th, 1819, the creature, which had been brought to Venice as part of that year's carnival celebrations, escaped from a menagerie on the Riva degli Schiavoni. 

With its captors in hot pursuit, the terrified beast charged through the narrow streets, finally breaking into the church of Sant' Antonin. As bullets had failed to penetrate the elephant's hide, a small cannon was brought to the church from the nearby Arsenale. Lord Byron, who was living in Venice at the time, takes up the story in a letter to his friend John Hobhouse. The elephant, he notes, was "killed by a Shot in his posteriore from a field-piece brought from the Arse-nal..." 

The elephant's body was sold to the University of Padua, where its skeleton remains to this day. 
Elephanteide by Pietro Buratti
The incident prompted the Venetian poet Pietro Buratti to pen an epic poem (Elephanteide) about the escapade, which he used as a metaphor to satirise the rule of the Austrians. The Elephantiad runs to 800 verses (in Venetian dialect) and earned the poet a month in jail. The poem is still on sale today. 

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