Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli

Top choice church in Cannaregio

When Nicolò di Pietro’s Madonna icon started miraculously weeping in its outdoor shrine around 1480, crowd control became impossible. With public fundraising and marble scavenged from San Marco slag heaps, this magnificent church was built (1481–89) to house the painting. Pietro and Tullio Lombardo's design dropped grandiose Gothic in favour of human-scale harmonies, introducing Renaissance church architecture to Venice.

The father-son team creatively repurposed polychrome marbles originally plundered from Egypt to Syria for use on the sides of the Basilica di San Marco. Note the fine scrollwork capitols and Venetian fish-scale patterns framing veined-marble panels. If you look closely at the columns on either side of the sanctuary you'll spot angels and mermaids carved by Tullio Lombardo.

The lofty vaulted interior and domed apse seem effortless, but they're marvels of Renaissance engineering, achieved without the Gothic device of buttressing. In a prime example of Renaissance humanism, Pier Maria Pennacchi filled each of the 50 wooden coffered ceiling panels with a bright-eyed portrait of a saint or prophet dressed as a Venetian, like a class photo in a school yearbook.