Spread of the plague in Venice (1630-1631)

Translated by Patrick Colbourne OFM Cap

From I Frati Cappuccini, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia 1991, III/2 pp 3828-3834.

The war over who was to lead Mantua brought about the defeat of Valeggia. It also brought the plague to Venice. It began to spread during the summer and winter of 1630, getting worse as the months went by until it was more intensive than it had been in 1575-1577. In the pages of the Annali della Provincia, the Provincial Secretary gave a brief summary of how it developed in the various cities in Venice as well as how the Capuchins responded and helped those stricken by the plague. It gives us a bird’s eye view of both the drama of human suffering and the extent of poverty that accompanied it.

6. The spread of the plague in Venice (1630-1631)

7324 This year the city of Mantua was captured by the Imperial forces. Because of the damage this caused the number of friars in our friaries had to be cut back in Mantua, Giuto, Ostigalia, d’Acquanegra and Villafranza[1]. Therefore, because of the scarcity of resources in those places, as well as the lack of friars, it became necessary to reduce the number of friars in a friary, and where there had been twelve or fourteen friars there were now four or five friars.

[109v] Then the plague struck the city of Mantua where some of our friars died.

From there it went on to Ostiglia and into our friary, where almost all the friars died with others falling ill.[2] Out of zeal for the honour of God and the salvation of souls the friars exposed themselves to all kinds of danger. In order that those who were dying could receive the Sacraments they went out into the streets, into the countryside and into their homes and heard their Confession and gave them the Sacraments.

7325 The contagious illness then went to Verona where the health officials and Signor Valeresso, who was famous for assisting those who were sick, asked the friars to go to the leper hospital to give material and spiritual assistance to those who had been stricken by the plague. Very Reverend Father Basilio da Vicenza, who was the Provincial, took care of this.[3] He sent a pastoral letter to all the friaries urging the friars to undertake this burdensome yet glorious work. Many of the friars wrote back to him not only offering to go but imploring him in visceribus Jesu Christi, (with all the affection of Jesus Christ) over and over again, to allow them to go. In fact, in a very short time there was a list of the names of more than two hundred friars who volunteered to go even though they considered themselves to be unworthy of so great a favour.

Some were sent to the leper hospital of Verona which was outside the city. Others went to the leper hospital inside our friary where about thirty-five of them died of the plague that they had contracted while attending to those who were dying. There were students there as part of a school of Philosophy and because they joined in to help some of them died as a result of contracting the illness.[4]

Some other friars also died including Father Ilario da Verona, Brother Tomaso da Venezia, Brother Simon da Padova, Brother Francesco da Ostiglia.[5] [110r] Later on Father Giovanni Antonio da Bergamo, after working for many months in the leper hospital where people suffered from contagious complaints and administering the Sacraments, went back to the friary and ended his days going to the Lord to receive his just reward.[6]

7326 When the dangerous situation had passed in Venice, where many priests had died, some friars were sent there to do pastoral work. Father Francesco da Vicenza, who was a preacher, and Brother Ruffino d’Arzignano were sent to Castel Nuovo for a few months to administer the Sacraments.[7]

Father Gabrielle da Suvizo and BrotherSteffano da Caneva went to Sant Orso.[8]

Father Lorenzo da Udine and Brother Giuseppe da Cologna went to the leper hospital of san Felice outside Vicenza.[9]

The friars from the friary in Arzignano, where many people had died, went into the homes to administer the Sacraments.[10] One of these friars was Father Damaso da Vicenza, who was a preacher and Guardian of that fraternity. What he achieved was amazing, because he was hard of hearing, when he heard the Confessions of those who had been stricken by the plague, he had to place his ear close to them and it was a miracle that he did not catch their illness. He did not even suffer from a headache.[11]

7327 The fraternity at Arco did the same thing. The friars went out in public and boldly administered the Sacraments to those who had been stricken by the plague. These friars included: Father Filippo Bergamasco, a priest; Father Silvio da Vesténe, both of whom were preserved by the Lord.[12]

Father Giovanni da Bassano, Father Giovanni Maria da Verona and Brother Angelico went to Bassano where many people died. The two priests remained well but the brother died from the plague after living a holy life.[13]

The contagious illness reached Venice where some friars had been sent to the new and the old leper hospital at the request of the Senate. The friars were accompanied by the most illustrious and excellent Signor Francesco Bassadonna. Some of them fell sick and died. Others fell sick but recovered. Others remained in good health. Those who died included: [110v] Father Agostino Bergamasco, a preacher; Father Onorato da Mandora, a priest; Father Giovanni Battista da Garniga, a Theatine priest; Father Gabriele da Nago, a priest; Father Bernardino d’Oderzo, a priest; Brother Gianuario da San Bonifacio and Brother Sante da Padua.[14] Those who became ill but were cured with the help of God include: Father Francesco da Udine. Father Francesco da Gemona, Father Francesco da Venezia, and Brother Celso Bresciano. Father Pietro da Sacile was not stricken and remained healthy until the end.[15]

7328 Father Emiliano Bergamasco and Father Andrea da Vicenza were sent to the leper hospital in Chioza. They both worked each day for the glory of God and the salvation of souls in doing what was required of them.[16]

Father Bernardino d’Udine and Brother Paolo were sent to the leper hospital at Pordenone. They both took sick and died in the Lord. The Lord kept Father Alessio da Venezia in good health. Others including Brother Gianuario da Rovigo and Brother Patrizio da Venezia, who took care of the friars in the fraternity who were stricken by the plague, fell ill but survived. Father Cipriano d’Ampezzo also undertook this work and died in the leper hospital in Pordenone.[17]

The friars from the local fraternity went into Capo d’Istria. Those who administered the Sacraments to people who had been stricken by the plague and were dying included Father Claudio da Venezia, Father Zeno da Verona, Father Girolamo da Marostiga, Father Egidio da Bergamo and Father Timoteo de Verona.[18] [111r]

The plague struck the cities of Padua, Treviso, and Bassano with severe cruelty, especially Padua.[19] At the request of the staff at the hospital and Giovanni Pisani, our superiors also sent more friars. They rushed there tamquam si ad epulas essent invitati.[20] In a short time some of them died and other fell ill. Those who died included: Father Giovanni da Lendinara, Father Nicolὸ da Vicenza, Brother Feliciano da Valtellina, and Brother Egidio Bergamasso. Father Beltrando da Villaorba fell ill and spent many months in hospital with Father Germano di Verona.[21]

7329 Father Arcangelo da Verona, Brother Michiel da Roveredo, and Brother Agostino went into the town to obtains what the friars needed and to attend to the people. Brother Michiele, who was a questor, died and Brother Agostino fell ill but recovered later.[22]

While the plague was raging His Holiness Pope Urban VIII granted the priests permission not only to hear Confession and administer the Sacraments but also to absolve those who were suffering from the plague and grant them indulgences that were usually granted in articolo mortis. I can say this because of what was contained in a letter by Father Francesco da Genoa.

Greetings Very Reverend Father in the Lord. To encourage our friars who are at present serving those who have been stricken by the plague, I have been moved to beg for some favours to promote their spiritual welfare and the salvation of souls so that the blessings that the Lord has already bestowed on the friars may continue to help them as they serve those who are afflicted by the present outbreak of the plague. May they be able to confer the Papal blessing on the dying together with the indulgence that is usually granted only in articolo mortis.[23]


  1. The war over succession in Mantua broke out after the death of Vincenzo II Gonzaga.
  2. Regarding to this friary see P. Arturo M. da Carmignano di Brenta, Storia dei cappuccini veniti III, Venezia-Mestre 1979, 45-70, I conventi cappuccini nell’inchiesta del 1650, I: L’Italia Settentrionale, a cura di M. D’Alatri, Roma 1986, 292s.
  3. Basilio da Vicenza died in Venice on 26th March 1638. Cf. P. Graziano Saccardo, Necrologio dei frati minori cappuccinoi della provincial Veneto, Padova 1975.
  4. Regarding the service of the Capuchins in Venice during the plague see below, nn. 7369-7375.
  5. Regarding these friars who died of the plague between June and July in 1630 cf. Necrologio cit. 345, 346 and 298 which contain references to biographical sources. Ostiglio is always referred to as Hostia.
  6. Father Giovanni Antonio da Bergamo was the military chaplain in the camp under the command of Gradisca. He died in September 1630. He was known as Padre Zelo (ibid. 438).
  7. Regarding Francesco de Mironi da Vicenza (1596-1656) and Rufino d’Arzignao (+ 1640) who worked in Castelnuovo Vicentino cf. ibid.,103, 397.
  8. These two worked amongst the plague stricken in Santorso in 1637. The first one died in Verona in 1658 and the second in 1654 (ibid., 257, 102).
  9. Lorenzo da Udine died at Montagnagna in 1656 and Giuseppe Geminiani da Cologna at Verona in 1674 (ibid., 589, 107).
  10. The manuscript has amministrarido.
  11. Damaso da Vicenza died at Padua in 1648 (ibid., 300).
  12. This paragraph was added from the notes supplied by Father Epifano Soderini. Regarding Father Giovanni da Bassano (who died in 1648 when chaplain to the soldiers and those who were wounded at Kido da Venezia), Father Giovanni M. da Verona (+1653) and Brother Anglico Gava da Treviso (+1631) cf., Necrologia cit., 483, 477 and 596.
  13. Filippo da Bergamo died of the plague in December 1631 at Arzignano. Silvio da Vestenanova died in Venice in 1644 (ibid., 587, 236).
  14. Regarding these members of a Religious Order who died between June and July 1631m cf. ibid. 291, 298, 346 and 306.
  15. For Francesco da Udine (+ 1661), Francesco da Gemona (+ 1649), Francesco da Venezia (+ 1649 while serving as military chaplain at Lido di Venezia), Brother Celso Castrezzago di Lonato (+ 1651), Pietro da Sacile (Pivὸs) (+ 1665) cf. ibid. 590, 589, 540, 541 and 349. See also below in the various reports concerning the work of the friars in the leper hospitals in Venice, nn. 7330-7353.
  16. For Emiliano da Bergamo (+ 9th July 1631) and Andrea Sartori da Vicenza (+ 13th July 1631) cf. ibid, 314 and 319. See also below the statement of Pietro Vesco vi, nn. 7391-7397; and Arturo M. da Carmignano di Brenta, Storia cit., III, 278-280.
  17. Concerning Bernardino Del Conte da Udine (+ 1631), Brother Paolo (+ 5th July 1631), Alessio Parisi da Venezia (+ 1655), Brother Gennaro Maioli da Rovigo (+ 1634), Patrizio da Venezia (+ 1666), Cipriano Glardino d’Ampezzo (+ 1631) cf. Necrologia cit., 346, 309, 65, 120, 444 and 359.
  18. Father Claudio Civrano da Venezia, Father Timoteo Poveri da Verona and all the others mentioned here died of the plague in 1632. Cf. ibid., 346,206n, 396 and 369; see also nn. 7382-7390.
  19. For the work that the friars carried out in Padua cf. below, nn. 7354-7368.
  20. Just like the early Christians who had offered themselves to die for Christ: “they went as if they had been invited to a banquet.”
  21. Concerning Giovanni Leopardi da Lendinara (+ 10th June 1631), Nicolὸ da Vicenza (+ July 16310), Brother Feliciano della Valtellina (+ 16th June 1631), Egidio Bergamasco (+ July 1631) Beltrame Romano da Villorba (+ 1650) and Germano Cavalli da Verona (+ 1642) cf. ibid., 272, 346, 279, 102, 232.
  22. For Arcangelo Crema da Verona (+ 1664), Michele da Rovereto (+ 1631) and Agosgino Stoppa da Venezia (+ 1641) cf. ibid., 52, 396 and 50.
  23. Marcellino da Pise da Maçon in Annalium seu sacrarun historiarum Ord. Min. S.Fransici qui Capucini nuncupantur t. III, Lughuni 1676, 801, n. 52; cf. Melchior a Pobladura, Historia Generalis O.F.M.Cap. II/2, Roma 1948, 133.