History of the Feast of Saint Mark

by Elena Brunello
feast of saint mark

The Feast of Saint Mark (Festa di San Marco) is an annual national holiday coinciding with Liberation Day on 25 April. While Venice also celebrates its patron, Italy commemorates the liberation from the Nazi-Fascist regime in World War II.

The City's Patron

Saint Mark the Evangelist is the patron and symbol of Venice. The majestic basilica, built on the shore of Saint Mark’s basin and one of the city’s top attractions is named after the Catholic saint. During Venice rule as a Maritime Republic, on 25 April civil and religious representatives would march in a parade from Saint Mark’s Basilica. The city also used to celebrate 31 January, the day when the saint’s relics were brought to Venice, and 25 June, when these were first found. Today, citizens only celebrate 25 April with a huge procession that starts in Saint Mark, the city’s area with more attractions.

A Religious Tradition

To understand Italian culture, one needs to understand the importance of its traditions. That of the worship of saints, is sometimes regarded as even more important and powerful than God itself and it is one of these deeply rooted traditions. Venice hosts the relics of its saint patron: Mark the Evangelist. His relics were brought to Venice by two legendary Venetian merchants: Rustico da Torcello and Buono da Malamocco. The two men stole the saint’s relics from Alexandria, in Egypt, and hid them under a load of pork’s meat, confiding in Muslims’ disgust in touching pig’s meat. The Venetian celebrated the arrival of the relics as Saint Mark was told to be the Evangelist who evangelised the Venetians. Later on, the event started to attract thousands of pilgrims and Christians from all over the world. Thus, Mark soon became Venice’s patron and symbol.

The Rosebud Celebration

Legend tells that Maria, daughter of a Doge (Venice’s ruler), fell in love with young Tancredi. Her father though, did not like this relationship and forbid their marriage. Maria hence asked Tancredi to leave and fight the Arabs in Spain, in order to gain her father’s respect. However, when Christian captain Orlando came back to Venice, he sadly announced Maria that Tancredi had died at war. Deadly wounded by the enemy, his body was found laying on a rosebush. It is said that Tancredi’s last words were for Maria, asking his fellow comrades in arms to bring back to his loved one a rosebud. The following day the heartbroken Maria was found dead with a rosebud in her hands. Today, 25 April is commemorated in Venice as lovers’ day. Husbands and boyfriends usually offer their wives and lovers a red rose, as a symbol of everlasting love. This day is called Bocolo (rosebud) of Saint Mark.

The Iconography

Saint Mark the Evangelist is Venice’s symbol and has been the Republic of Venice and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria former coat of arms. It is usually represented in the form of a winged lion holding a Bible in its paws. A famous version of this symbol appears as the logo of Venice’s world-famous Film Festival and its main award: the Golden Lion.

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