Friday, May 4, 2012

The 25th of April in Venice - The Magic of Saint Mark, the Evangelist

Saint Mark's Basilica
(Venice, Italy) "Today is the feast day of Saint Mark and I heard that the Patriarch gave all the residents a special blessing at the ceremony this morning," a friend called to say. "I can feel the energy! I wish I could go over to the Basilica, but I've decided to keep the shop open today."

"I'll go to Second Vespers," I said. "I'll light candles for both of us. We've worked so hard for this city, we could use a blessing from San Marco."

Piazza San Marco
The 25th of April is a national holiday throughout Italy to celebrate the liberation from Nazi and Fascist domination in 1945 during World War II, sort of like the 4th of July in the United States. It is also Saint Mark's feast day. San Marco is the patron saint of Venice, and long before Italian Liberation Day, for centuries Venetians celebrated April 25th in an unique and magical way.

In addition, it is the Day of the Blooming Rose, a day that men give a rose to the women they love.

Also, this year, 2012, was the hundred-year anniversary of the rebuilding of the Campanile, Saint Mark's bell tower, which had collapsed in 1902, and was inaugurated "as it was, where it was" on April 25, 1912, a thousand years to the day that the original foundations were laid back on April 25, 912. (Or so the story goes.)

So April 25th is an extremely significant day here in Venice, a day to wave the flag -- which is emblazoned with the winged lion of San Marco -- receive uber blessings, celebrate the Campanile, and for men to acknowledge the women they love -- wives, girlfriends, mothers, daughters and friends.

Tomb of St. Mark & Pala d'Oro
Long before Hollywood existed, there was Venice, and Venice has always been masterful at bringing myths to life. Prior to Mark, Venice's patron saint was Theodore. In the ninth century, Venice wanted to free itself from the influence of Byzantium, and decided they needed a bigger saint. They needed an evangelist.

There just so happened to be a legend of how Saint Mark was passing through the Venetian lagoon on his way from Aquilea to Rome when an angel appeared and declared, "Pax tibi Marce, evangelista meus. Hic requiescet corpus tuum." (May Peace be with you, Mark, my evangelist. Here your body will rest.) When it came to saints, Mark was much more important than Theodore. After all, there were only four evangelists -- Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, and they had written the gospels, which many of us still read today:) Mark had founded the church in Alexandria. Mark was honored as the one who brought Christianity to Africa. Then in 68AD, the pagans resented his efforts to turn them away from their gods, put a rope around his neck and dragged him through the streets until he died, making Mark a martyr -- you really couldn't find a better saint. There was only one problem: Mark was buried in Egypt.

So the Venetians decided to steal the body. 

At the time, Giustiniano Participazio was the Doge, and he was making big changes in town. From Wikipedia:

The Byzantine Emperor, Michael II, offered military support to Venice in return for a contingent of Venetians in his expedition to Aghlabid Sicily. The success of the expedition increased the prestige of the city. 

While the contest (fomented by Charlemagne and by Lothair I) between the patriarchs of Grado and Aquileia over the Istrian bishoprics continued, Giustiniano worked to increase the prestige of the Venetian church itself. Traditionally, Venice was first evangelised by Saint Mark himself and many Venetians made the pilgrimage to Mark's grave in Alexandria, Egypt

Basilica
According to tradition, Giustiniano ordered merchants, Buono di Malamocco and Rustico di Torcello, to corrupt the Alexandrine monks which guarded the body of the evangelist and steal it away secretly to Venice. Hiding the body amongst some pork, the Venetian ship slipped through customs and sailed into Venice on 31 January 828 with the body of Saint Mark. Giustiniano began the construction of a ducal chapel dedicated to Saint Mark to house his remains: the first Basilica di San Marco in Venice.

Pope Pius X
That little adventure started a saint-stealing frenzy throughout Europe, but that is another story. What was accomplished, however, is that Venice greatly increased its prestige in the world. Mark the Evangelist became the patron saint, and his symbol, the winged lion became the symbol of Venice.

Venice eventually ended up with the Patriarch, too, leaving both Aquilea and Grado in the dust. Nowadays there are only four Patriarchs of the Latin-Rite on the entire planet: Jerusalem, Lisbon, the East Indies and Venice. The position is a stepping-stone to the Pope. The last Venetian Patriarch who ascended to the Papal throne was Pope John Paul I, who died mysteriously after 33 days. The Lion of San Marco was emblazoned on his coat of arms. Today, the new Patriarch, Francesco Moraglia, has the same coat of arms as Pope Pius X, who was also the Patriarch of Venice.

When I arrived for Second Vespers, the Basilica had been decorated with beautiful red exotic anthurium flowers. On the high altar, the Pala D'Oro was facing the congregation, the tomb of Saint Mark below. The hymns were beautiful; the voices sounded like angels. The new Patriarch was decked out in elaborate red finery, and sure enough, he gave a special blessing to Venice. After the service, I had the great privilege of praying right in front of the tomb of Saint Mark, the golden Pala D'Oro showering its magic down upon me -- it was awesome to kneel in front of the tomb of the great saint himself on the Feast Day of San Marco.

Palazzo Dolfin Manin - Bank of Italy
On April 25th, all throughout Venice, the red Venetian flag was flying -- even on the Bank of Italy over by Rialto!

Ciao from Venice,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. Long before Hollywood existed, there was Venice, and Venice has always been masterful at bringing myths to life. Prior to Mark, Venice's patron saint was Theodore. In the ninth century, Venice wanted to free itself from the influence of Byzantium, and decided they needed a bigger saint. They needed an evangelist.

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