The origins of the church of San Geminiano turn out to be very old - it is believed to date back to 554 - and represents a gift offered by the Greek general Narses to the Venetians for the naval aid received in the Byzantine war against the Goths. Built in front of the Church of San Geminiano in the same historical period - positioned on the bank of the Batario canal that crossed the square to the San Marco basin - was the church of St Theodore, the Saint who was the official patron of Venice until the remains of St. Mark the Evangelist were recovered; with the construction of the St Mark’s Basilica the church dedicated to St Theodore was demolished.
In 1106 San Geminiano was destroyed in a fire that burnt various parts of the city to the ground; under an initiative organised by Vitale II Michiel towards the second half of the XII century the church was later rebuilt in a more decentralised point in the piazza, which at the time was enlarged, redesigned and framed by St Mark’s Basilica and the canal that was filled in. Finally, the church underwent an important restoration in 1557 to the designs of the architect Jacopo Sansovino.
This church, even considering its small dimensions, must have been a real jewel: indeed, inside one could find works by important artists such as Alessandro Vittoria, Paolo Veronese, Jacopo Tintoretto, Gerolamo Santacroce, Giuseppe Scolari, Ludovico Spinelli, Alvise Dal Friso, Sebastiano Ricci, Gregorio Lazzarini, Gerolamo Brusaferro and Bartolomeo Vivarini. Even though the artistic works were of excellent quality, the strong point of this church was its architecture, characterized by lightness and elegance, with a square plan and a facade proportionally divided by two orders with a beautiful triangular tympanum and numerous niches and columns. The richness of the marbles were also amazing, given that it was embellished with Istrian stone both on the interior and exterior. In addition to the columns, statues and six altars was a bronze bust of Tommaso Rangone, doctor and philologist, now displayed in the Aula Magna of the Ateneo Veneto.
The result was so satisfactory that Sansovino erected a chapel in the interior destined to house his and his children Francesco and Fiorenza’s remains: unfortunately however, the little humanistic and artistic sensitivity of the occupying Napoleonic government deprived the Venetians of this precious pearl and the architect of the chosen tomb, whose ashes are presumed to be kept inside St Mark’s Basilica today.
The church suffered the same fate as many other Venetian churches during the Napoleonic dominion: it was destroyed in the early XIX century to make room for the enlargement of the Procuratie, whose new wing was to become the representative seat of the new Sovereigns, Napoleon and the viceroy Beauharnais during their stays in Venice. The works contained within the church were partly dispersed- many were sent abroad and only some remained in Venice.