Legend of Madonna dell’Orto

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The legend of Madonna dell’Orto
sculptor Paolo dalle Masegne and the statue of Judas
Legend of Madonna dell'Orto

The beautiful gothic church that stands behind the “Fondamenta de la Sensa”, recognizable by its red domed bell tower, was dedicated to Saint Christopher until the first half of the 14th century. The sculptor Paolo dalle Masegne was commissioned to sculpt the statues of the twelve apostles in the upper part of the church. In medieval times, the apostle Judas was never portrayed with his true likeness, using in his place the features of St. Matthias, the saint who took his place after his suicide.

Legend has it that Paolo dalle Masegne was in truth a devil worshipper and the church of St. Christopher was supposed to be a place of satanic worship, but no one, not even his brothers, knew this. To him the devil had given one of the 30 Judas coins used for the betrayal of Jesus and had given the order to insert this coin into the statue of the traitorous disciple to whom Paolo had given the true likeness. The sculptor did so, but in order to successfully complete what the devil had dictated to him, a mass dedicated to the realization of the work itself was necessary. Paolo made arrangements with the priest and set the date for Holy Mass. This took place during the Holy Week of 1366.

Among the people present at the ceremony there was also Isabella Contarin, a very famous girl in Venice so much to be considered a saint. Isabella was then twelve years old and was said to have the ability to dialogue with the afterlife and to read the future by looking at the aura of people. In the middle of the ceremony the girl looked into the eyes of Paolo dalle Masegne indicating him as a disciple of the devil. She did not even have time to say that the sculptor threw himself against her. However, a ready believer took the dispenser of holy water that he had in his hands and sprayed it against the follower of Satan. Paolo dalle Masegne fell on the ground suddenly as if unconscious.

At that point, says the legend of Madonna dell’Orto, the sky darkened and the wind blew strong, only to suddenly cease as it had begun. When Paolo came to his senses, he did not remember anything. In a small garden not far from the church the sculptor placed a small statue dedicated to the Madonna, which began to be worshiped by the inhabitants of Cannaregio because it was considered miraculous. The statue remained always in its place as we still see it today.

Location: Madonna dell’Orto, Venice

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