‘Things are not always what they seem’ goes the adage. On reading the title to this short essay, one might think that we are referring to our Collegiate of Canons, founded back in 1975. However, ours is not the only collegiate church of St George’s in Europe. Venice boasted at least of one: San Giorgio in Alga!

Alga is one of the uninhabited islands that are to be found in the splendid Venetian lagoon! However it was once inhabited by a foundation of the Benedictine Order known as the Canonici Regolari di San Giorgio in Alga. Venice is known for its devotion to St George! Pope Eugenius IV used to be a member of the Order. Gabriello Condulmerio was born in Venice in 1383; coming at an early age into the possession of great wealth, he distributed 20,000 ducats to the poor and, turning his back upon the world, entered the Augustinian Monastery of St George in his native city. He was later elected pope in the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. Gregory XII was also a member of this college of canons regular. He was also born in Venice and he is known in Church History as the legal pope during the Western Schism; he was pope from November 1406 to October 1417.

The Monastery of St George on the island of Alga existed already at the turn of the millennium. It had a tumultuous history. The Order of monks or canons regular was founded in 1397 within the already existing Benedictine monastery. Besides these two popes, other eminent monks lived here. Ludovico Barbo conducted here the reform of the Benedictine order and Saint Lawrence Giustiniani, first Patriarch of Venice, was once a member of the community and therefore a canon of St George’s. With the papal bull of March 1404, Pope Boniface IX established the Canons Regular. The canons used to wear white clothing with a turquoise vest upon it thus earning the title of ‘Turchini’ or ‘Azzurini’ or even ‘Celestini’. When in 1717 the church, library and monastery were destroyed by fire, the monks moved out.

San Rocco (Venice) – Statue of Saint Lawrence Giustiniani

Today the monks live within a new monastery on the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore where they have a church and monastery of their own. The island of Alga is now deserted. It was from this monastery that the holy relic of the arm of St George was brought to Gozo in July 2014.