Venice islands: San Francesco del deserto
There are various stories telling how Saint Francis reached this island in the north lagoon. One tells how the Saint, returning home from Alessandria, where he had gone to preach the Gospel, moored up to Torcello in 1220. However he found Torcello too rich and populated, and as he desired peace and quiet he took a boat and went to the island of the two Vineyards together with his Brother and Disciple "Enlightened" from Rieti. He built a cabin in the area where an Oratory had already been built. Tradition holds that the Saint planted the pine stick he had used during his journey from Alessandria, which then sprouted and flourished. Other versions of the story suggest that Saint Francis' visit to this remote part of the lagoon was probably due to the fact that the island was already a place of prayer, being dedicated to followers of Saint Sepolcro. When the Saint returned to Assisi, he sent a number of monks to the island and, in 1228, the owner of the island - Jacopo Michiel - in agreement with Saint Anthony of Padova, built a small church in honour of Saint Francis. On the 4th March 1233, the same nobleman made a gift of the island to the Minor Franciscan monks, who had been living in the Frari Convent in Venice for a number of years.
The monks built a convent there, but, due to the worsening weather conditions in the lagoon, they had to abandon it and the island was deserted between 1420 and 1453; this is when the island took on the name of Saint Francis Deserted. In 1453, Pope Pio II granted the island to the Minor Reformed Monks who stayed there until 1806 when, due to the suppression of all religious orders by Napoleon, the island became a military magazine. The monks had to retreat to Venice to the Convent of Saint Bonaventura.
The Austrians transformed the island into a stronghold, pointing the cannons towards the Burano Canal and building an explosives magazine. On 23rd December 1856, Francis I of Austria, gave the island as a gift to the Patriarch of Venice, who then granted perpetual ownership to the Minor Franciscan Monks who returned there on the 31st May 1858. The monks then renovated the two cloisters (one dating back to the 4th century and the other to the renaissance) and rebuilt the church.
Twenty years ago the island could be reached by public transport, but today, given the shallow water and the state of the banks, it is no longer possible. Private boats must be used, or transport offered by the monks, or alternatively, every afternoon a Burano man takes visitors from the north bank of Burano, near the church of St. Martin, to the Desert Island.
Franciscan friars still live inside an austere convent embellished by two XIV and XV century cloisters.
San Fancesco del Deserto can be reached both from Venice and Burano in 20 minutes by boat (not served by public transport but easily reachable from Burano, exclusively by water).
Visit the official website of San Francesco del deserto island.