The Virgins of Venice

Santa Maria delle Vergini, Venice

The other morning I was walking through the quiet, and tourist-free, back streets of Castello when I suddenly noticed, at a distance, a rather beautiful Gothic arch attached to one of the walls of the Arsenale. I went to investigate, but could get no further than the Ponte S. Daniele. 

I later discovered, thanks to Mary Laven's fascinating book, Virgins of Venice, that the arch is all that remains of the once important convent of Santa Maria delle Vergini. Its inscription, SPES E AMOR GRATO CARCERE NOS RETINENT S.M. DELE VERZENE, translates as 'Hope and love keep us in this pleasant prison. Santa Maria delle Vergini.' The plaque is dated May 2nd, 1557.

Santa Maria delle Vergine was simply one of thirty-three convents in Venice with a further seventeen scattered about the lagoon. Together, they accommodated over 3,000 nuns.