Hidden treasures

The red lights of St Mark’s Basilica in memory of the poor ‘fornareto’

Mysteries & Legends

The red lights of St Mark’s Basilica in memory of the poor ‘fornareto’

If you find yourself wandering around St Mark’s Basilica in the evening, take a look at its southern façade ... you will notice two small red lights placed at the sides of two capitals. These lightbulbs are the perpetual memory of a story that, at the time, shook the foundations of justice of the Serenissima Republic: on a gray morning in March 1507, Pietro Fasiol, a young baker known as 'the fornareto', while walking down the stairs of the Bridge of Assassins , where once a canal lay, saw on the floor the scabbard of a dagger covered with precious stones.

Delighted by such luck, the young man, thinking of turning this precious find into a dowry to marry his beloved woman, ran to show the precious sheath to his fiancée Annella, the maid in the house of the noble Barbo family who would later be known, as the Balbi family. But his fiancée, at the sight of the sheath, became alarmed and urged the young Pietro to put it back where he had found it.

Thus, the fornareto retraced his steps but when he arrived at the place of the discovery in daylight that by now had lit up the alleyways, he realized that on the ground lay the body of a man: the patrician Guoro. The naive fornareto approached the body of the patrician to see if he was still alive but unfortunately, at that very moment, he was seen first by one and then by other witnesses, bending over the corpse with the sheath in his hand and the dagger still stuck in the back of the noble. He was restrained and handed over to the Signori della Notte and imprisoned in the terrible prisons of the Doge's Palace. Here, subjected to terrible tortures, a false confession of murder was extorted from him and he was inevitably sentenced to death. Thus, on the morning of March 22, 1507, the condemned man was taken and hanged between the two columns where the lion of San Marco and San Todaro that kills a dragon stand, in the section of St Mark’s Square in front of the loggia of the Doge’s Palace.

Immediately after the hanging among the crowd that had witnessed the execution, a witness appeared who revealed the name of the real murderer. Not the poor baker then, but the rich count Lorenzo Barbo who had taken revenge for the dissolute behavior of the noble Guoro who had attempted to the virtue of his wife and his servant, Annella, the fiancé of the unfortunate fornareto.

So it was that the Council of Ten, which boasted it always exercised fair and proper justice, ordered that at the end of each trial, before retiring to the council chamber, the phrase 'Remember the poor Fornareto' be pronounced, so as to avoid future miscarriages of justice. It also ordered that two lights be lit every night on the loggia on the right side of St Mark’s Basilica in front of where the gallows were, in perennial memory of the mistake and the light necessary to defeat the darkness of injustice.

This is one of the many stories that St Mark’s Basilica hides within its walls ... would you like to hear other ones? Then don't miss our guided tours of St Mark’s Basilica! They will open the doors of a mysterious world to you...

By Insidecom Editorial Staff

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