Sunday, 29 December 2013

Christmas Magic in Venice 2013

The Pala d'Oro - Basilica di San Marco
(Venice, Italy) Christmas in Venice has been lovely this year, peaceful, filled with locals and full of beauty. Midnight mass on Christmas Eve at St. Mark's Basilica was standing-room-only, with plenty of incense and ancient icons. One of the greatest thrills about Christmas is that the Pala d'Oro, the wall of gold at the high altar, is turned to face the congregation, right above the body of Saint Mark (that the Venetians smuggled out of Alexandria, Egypt back in 828). The Basilica of San Marco is one of the most exquisite places of worship on the planet, and I feel very fortunate that I can just stroll over there and zoom back nearly 1000 years.

Photo: Britannica
The ancient Venetians were wily marketers, with an enormous amount of resources and wealth -- and who were brilliant at creating their own myths and turning them into reality. St. Theodore was the original patron saint of Venice, but who knew who he was? The ancient Venetians were big dreamers, and they needed a big saint -- they needed an evangelist. So they hopped down to Alexandria and stole the body of Saint Mark, claiming that an angel had told the Evangelist that Venice would be his final resting place -- they were merely fulfilling the prophecy. By doing such a thing, they not only got the protection of the author of the Gospel According to Mark, the Founder of the first Church in Africa, and the first Bishop of Alexandria, they also got Mark's powerful symbol: the winged lion.

Photo: Petar Milosevic
There are all sorts of different stories and legends about St. Mark that have come down to us over the centuries, depending on the source. Apparently he was born in what is now Libya. He was a few years younger than Jesus Christ. His parents moved to Palestine when he was young. He was the fellow who poured the water that Jesus turned into wine at the Wedding at Cana, the first public miracle of Jesus (a moment captured by renowned Venetian artist Paolo Veronese for the Palladian Refectory on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, a painting later ripped off the wall and stolen by Napoleon -- it now resides in the Louvre). Mark founded the Church of Alexandria where he was dragged through the streets and martyred for criticizing the worship of pagan gods.

Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese (1562)
From Wikipedia:

In 828, relics believed to be the body of St. Mark were stolen from Alexandria by Venetian merchants and taken to Venice. A mosaic in St Mark's Basilica depicts sailors covering the relics with a layer of pork and cabbage leaves. Since Muslims are not permitted to touch pork, this was done to prevent the guards from inspecting the ship's cargo too closely. “History records no more shameless example of body snatching...” as John Julius Norwich put it. The possession of a truly important relic could have serious political consequences. When the body of St Mark came to Venice, the previous patron saint of the city, St Theodore, was demoted. The Doge of the day began to build a splendid church to contain the relics next to his palace, the original San Marco. With an evangelist on its territory, Venice acquired a status almost equal to that of Rome itself.

From the Basilica di San Marco website:

"Venice's greatness has always been reflected in the Basilica's enrichment: during the centuries the Venetians embellished it with precious objects and works of art brought in from the most distant places, thus creating a grand, compact monument. The mellow light falling from above seems to divide the earthly world from the supernatural, which glitters on the vaults in the golden mosaics."

The Pala d'Oro was commissioned a millennium ago, and installed in 1105. I wrote about the Wall of Gold for Gems of Venice:

"The ancient Venetians cherished gems, and created one of the most exquisite altarpieces on earth, the Pala d'Oro, originally commissioned more than 1000 years ago, back about the time when King Mu first traveled on the Silk Road. Venice was inspired by Byzantium and the East, and hired craftsmen from Constantinople to assemble a wall of gold, a "refined expression of Byzantine genius and the cult of light." Embellished with rubies, sapphires, emeralds, garnets, amethysts and 1,927 pearls, the Pala d'Oro attracts the highest energy from the heavens."

Venice is one of the few places in the world that has a Patriarch. Many have gone on to become Pope, the most recent being the beloved John Paul I, who died mysteriously after only 33 days as head of the Roman Catholic Church. Today the Patriarch is Francesco Moraglia, who is from Genoa. This year, when we got to the phrase...:

"Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."

...I thought, is this same old story really going to just keep cycling on this planet? How many more centuries will we fight over Jerusalem? Are we never going to break the pattern??

If you are a long time reader of my Venice Blog, or if you have read my novel, HARLEY'S NINTH, you will know that my favorite icon is the Madonna Nicopeia, the Madonna of Victory, who marched at the front of the Roman Imperial army when the capital was Byzantium, or Constantinople, now Istanbul. They say she was painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist, and performs miracles. Here she is in person:

Madonna Nicopeia, St. Mark's Basilica
After mass, we tumbled out into Piazza San Marco, where we actually have a real Christmas tree this year.

The lead up to Christmas day was magical, with lots of mysterious Venetian fog swirling through the calli, and parties in palaces -- I was over at Ca' Sagredo, a magnificent XV century palazzo, twice in two days. The noble Sagredo family bought the palace at the beginning of the 18th century, and it still boasts masterpieces by Venetian artists such as Nicolò Bambini, Giambattista Tiepolo, Sebastiano Ricci and Pietro Longhi.

Music Hall at Ca' Sagredo
The first event was on December 19, which took place in the spectacular Music Hall -- the setting of a book launch for Angelo Bacci's SOTTO SOPRA: LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA, a retrospective about the last 40 years of Venice's La Biennale. After the reading, I gorged myself on some of the best food I have eaten in years. It tasted exotic, but I could not place the country it came from. Not India... Not Turkey... I asked, and found out it came from Afghanistan! It was the first time I've ever had food from Afghanistan, and I became an immediate fan.

Afghanistan guys (Cat Bauer takes blame for blurry photo:)
The second event took place the following evening, December 20, and was a cocktail reception "to celebrate Christmas and New Year Festivities together with friends" in the Portego Hall to "strengthen the excellent relationship between Venice and the United States, New York City in particular," in collaboration with the International Columbia Association & FDNY, which is affiliated with the Columbia Association of the New York City Fire Department.

Portego in the day time
"The International Columbia Association was officially founded on November 15, 2006, by Vincent A. Tummino, retired member of the New York City Fire Department. Mr. Tummino has served as President of the Columbia Association FDNY for 9 years and has served on the Board of Directors for over 15 years. He has been appointed as Ambassador of this Association."

"The mission of the International Columbia Association is to promote the Italian culture, heritage, and language. The Association, through its friends and philanthropists, provides opportunities for the advancement of education and for learning the Italian language. The International Columbia Association also performs humanitarian acts for those in need. The Association will continue to promote and participate in the annual New York City Columbus Day Parade and will also collaborate with other associations who share a common interest in the promotion of the Italian culture."

The entertainment was a play by the Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni performed by the Garanghelo Theater Copany in Venetian dialect, and the food included little hot dogs and hamburgers, and chicken wings, in addition to pumpkin risotto and Venetian appetizers. (I still haven't figured out how to take photos without a flash:) It was a joint Venetian - USA party by way of NYC, with an emphasis on good will to men -- refreshing.

Happy Holidays from Venezia!
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. It was a joint Venetian - USA party by way of NYC (not Washington:) with an emphasis on good will to men -- refreshing.