The day of the dead

November 2 is, in the Venetian calendar, ‘el zorno dei morti’, the day of the dead. In common with the whole of the Catholic world, the day in which dead friends, family, and ancestors are remembered and honoured.

In Venice, the focus shifts to the island of San Michele, which since 1807 has been the city’s main cemetery. Originally two smaller islands, San Michele and San Cristoforo, the island is located to the north of the city centre, halfway to Murano. In the past, on November 2, a pontoon bridge used to be built from the Fondamente Nove to the island of San Michele to allow people easy access to visit the graves of their loved ones. This no longer happens, and people now need to take the vaporetto.

san michele
Interior of the church of San Michele.

The church of San Michele in Isola was built in 1469 by Mauro Codussi and is considered to be the first Renaissance style church to have been built in Venice.

Tombs in the cemetery of San Michele.


The cemetery, which is still in use—sadly, I attended my great aunt Nerina’s funeral there back in May of this year—also contains the graves of some internationally famous non-Venetians who died in the city, such as writer Ezra Pound, composer Igor Stravinsky, and impresario Sergei Diaghilev.

The tomb of Igor Stravinsky.
The tomb of Sergei Diaghilev.


Another building in Venice which is considered to be connected to November 2 is the church of Santa Maria della Fava (Saint Mary of the Bean). This strange name is sometimes thought to have originated because it was near a shop that made ‘Fave dei Morti’, (beans of the dead) a kind of almond biscuit eaten all over Italy on November 2. The connection of beans with the dead goes back to Roman times. The Roman poet Ovid, in his work the Fasti, describes a ritual in which beans are used to lure dead spirits out of one’s house!

1 thought on “The day of the dead”

  1. I’m sorry now that I did not make it to Isola San Michele during my visit, but I thank you for these photos and story line. I did however find SM della Fava in a circuitous way as it was across a bridge from the internet shop I used on occasion. Very interesting note on beans! Grazie mille.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: