The Camaldolite monastery of San Michele in Isola, also known as San Michele di Murano, where Fra Mauro (active ca. 1430-ca. 1459/1464) lived between circa 1409-1459, is situated on a small island in the Venetian lagoon between Venice and Murano.
The monastery stands on the site of a church dedicated in the 10th century to Saint Michael the Archangel. In 1212 the Chapter of Torcello granted the church to the Camaldolite congregation of the Order of Saint Benedict, and in 1300 the monastery was designated an Abbey. The monastery included a library which grew during the 15th century to become an important center of secular as well as monastic culture. Although on an island, due to its vicinity to Venice the monastery served as a residence for ambassadors visiting the Serenissima, who were housed in apartments reserved for them adjacent to that of the Abbot. Their influence serves in part to explain the richness of Fra Mauro’s knowledge, encompassing ancient authorities, a diverse cultural matrix, and oral sources.
Beginning in 1460, the world map was preserved and exhibited in a display chest in the Church of San Michele. In 1655 it was transferred to the monastery’s library, but in 1810, after the suppression of the religious orders, the map was brought to Venice.
Under Austrian domination, the monastic complex became a political penitentiary where important figures such as Silvio Pellico (1789-1854) and Pietro Maroncelli (1795-1846) were incarcerated. After 1829 it once again became a monastery, now inhabited by a conventual order of Franciscan Minorites. In 1837 the island of San Michele was united with the adjacent island of San Cristoforo to allow for the expansion of the cemetery of Venice, which Napoleon had established at San Cristoforo. Today the combined islands share the monumental cemetery of Venice.
On the island today, only the bell tower and a small cloister remain from the era of Fra Mauro. The splendid façade in Istrian stone, the first work in Venice by the Lombard architect Mauro Codussi (ca. 1440-1504), was built in 1460, shortly after the death of Fra Mauro, which took place between 1459 and 1464.