The church dedicated to Santa Fosca — virgin and martyr — is located next to the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta on the island of Torcello and completes the traditional early Chrisitan scheme that included a Baptistery and a martyrium.
The place of worship was originally dedicated to the Saints Fosca and Maura, whose bodies arrived on the island of Torcello from Sabratha in the 10th century, a city of Punic-Roman origin near Tripoli. It is said that the Virgin was martyred at the young age of fifteen together with Maura, her nurse, who had been responsible for her conversion to Christianity. After the baptism the two women managed to escape the capture of the soldiers thanks to the divine intervention of an angel who brought them to safety. Fosca and Maura then spontaneously decided to go to the trial against them just the same, and face their sentence: they were tortured and beheaded. Their bodies were thrown into the sea and, after being recovered by fishermen driven by pity, were transported to Tripolitania and transferred to the island of Torcello many years later.
The exact year in which the church was built is unknown, but there are sources that are certain it existed in 1020, although it is assumed that a Christian chapel already existed on the same site.
The current appearance of the church takes inspiration from the architecture dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries, while there are conflicting opinions on what the original plan might be: some maintain that the church was built as martyrium, or martyrion, (term for a building used for the burial of martyrs and for worship) with a central plan organized around a square inserted in an octagon, while others believe that the plan was cruciform in times past.
The current building’s plan is characterized by a large central space with a square plan. Three of the sides show arms with barrel roofs while on the fourth side is the chancel, divided into three aisles with apses; this is harmoniously connected with the dome — collapsed in 1117 and we can see only the first rings today — with a very simple exterior. On the only existing altar - rebuilt in 1939 - is a wooden work of the 15th century depicting Santa Fosca sleeping, while there was also once a 15th century wooden high-relief depicting the Saint Fosca dead, now preserved in the Torcello Museum. The work, which covered the sarcophagus of the martyr, is one of the most valuable wooden Venetian sculptures in existence.
Outside, you can also admire an elegant polygonal arcade with raised Venetian-Byzantine arches that surrounds the entire building, built in an area adjacent to a cemetery whose oldest tombs could date back to a period between the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th century.