4 - Chiesa di San Samuele


Casanova's Church


After passing under the plaque which incorrectly states that Casanova was born on the Calle de la Comedia (Calle Malipero), turn left and you find yourself at the San Samuele waterbus stop, located in front of the Chiesa Di San Samuele church, which played a huge part in Casanova's life.

Originally built in the year 1000, it was reconstructed following two fires in the 12th Century and was completely rebuilt in 1685 with the front facade added in 1952.

A year before his birth, on 17th February 1724, Casanova's 17 year old mother married his 27 year old father, Gaetano Casanova; at just 3 days old, he was baptized here and; on Valentine's Day 1740, when he was 14, he briefly joined the priesthood here under the watchful eye of the parish priest, Father Tosello. 

The strict teachings of Father Tosello had led to an argument with Casanova about his well preened appearance, prompting the 15 year old to question his role in the church:

Taking me aside one day, he told me with honeyed words that in the vocation I had chosen I must think first of pleasing God with my soul and not man with my appearance. He condemned the curling of my hair as too studied, and the scent of my pommade as too refined. He told me the devil had grabbed me by the hair and I would be excommunicated if I continued to devote such care to it... I replied by citing the example of the countless abbes to whom nobody paid any attention, who were not considered excommunicated, who applied three times as much powder as the mere trace I used, and who wore an amber-scented pommade that was dangerous to preganant women, whereas mine, which smelled of jasmine, won me the compliments of every company I frequented. Finally, I told him that had I wanted to smell bad I would have become a Capuchin, and that, in short, I was very sorry I could not obey him.
— Casanova, The Story Of My Life (Volume I)

This refusal to play by the church's rules would shape Casanova's future behaviour in Venice - and life in general - and prompted a response a few days later which would anger him so much he would consider giving up on the idea of becoming a priest.

Three or four days later, he persuaded my grandmother to let him enter my room very early in the morning, when I was still asleep... The cruel priest, who loved me in his way, quietly approached my bed and with sharp scissors pitilessly cut off all the hair at the front of my head, from one ear to the other. My brother Francesco, who was in the room with me, saw him and did not interfere. He was delighted, in fact, for he himself wore a wig and was jealous of my beautiful hair.
— Casanova, The Story Of My Life (Volume I)

The immediate days following this episode, Casanova planned his revenge, whilst walking around town wearing a Venetian theatre mask to avoid embarrassment, and was encouraged by a lawyer to institute an extrajudicial motion, based on the evidence that Father Toledo had also ruined the family of a Slavonian merchant by "the far less serious" act of cutting off the man's moustache.

It was Senator Malipiero, who lived in the palace next to the church, that saved the situation by persuading Casanova to drop the case and sent one of Venice's best hairdressers to give the 15 year old priest a new hairstyle - one which was "so studied that it really did deserve excommunication." 

Despite a long argument with the not so-approving Father Toledo over its contents, Casanova's enthusiasm for the church would soon be reignited following his first sermon here in 1741:.

I delivered my sermon in the church of San Samuele to a very select audience. After the long and ringing applause, it was universally predicted that I would become the greatest preacher of the century, since nobody had ever fulfilled the role so well at the tender age of fifteen.

Upon emptying the basket, in which it was customary to place an offering for the preacher, the sacristan found about fifty sequins and some love letters that scandalised the fanatics.
— Casanova ~ The Story Of My Life (Volume I)

Despite the adoration of his female audience, however, priesthood would turn out not to be Casanova's calling, when, on the 19th March 1741, his second sermon was cut short when he forgot his words and fainted, a result of being too drunk, having been unable to turn down the chance for the glamourous attraction of lunch with the Count of Montreale, who was staying at his house, and his future son-in-law, the aristocrat Barozzi.

I delivered the exordium very well, then caught my breath. Once I hat uttered the first hundred words of the exposition, however, I no longer knew what I was saying or what I should say: but since I wanted to forge ahead at any cost, I rambled away in any direction. What finally made me lose my way utterly was a dull sound from the restless audience, who were only too aware of my fiasco. I saw several people leave the church, and thought I heard laughter; I lost my head, as well as the hope of making the best of a bad situation.

I can assure the reader I have never known whether I only pretended to faint or fully fainted in earnest. All I know is that I let myself fall to the pulpit floor, crashing my head against the wall in the hope that it would split open.
— Casanova ~ The Story Of My Life (Volume I)

Embarrassed, he walked the short distance home, packed his bags, borrowed some money of his grandmother and left immediately for Padua to take his third year examinations, deep in the knowledge that priesthood was not for him.