25th of April – St. Mark Day

Carpaccio, Leone di San Marco, Palazzo DucaleThe winged lion is a metaphorical representation of Mark the Evangelist. It appears with an open book in its hand, with the Latin words PAX TIBI MARCE EVANGELISTA MEUS (Peace to you, Mark my Evangelist). A Venetian legend claims that Saint Peter sent Saint Mark to evangelize Aquileia (a small city in the Terraferma). Surprised by a storm on his return to Rome, Mark was recovered by some shelters. They bring him to small island where Mark debarked to spend the night. In a dream an angel came to the scared evangelist and said Pax tibi Marce. Hic requiescet corpus tuum (Peace to you Mark. Here will rest your body) So the angel reassured Mark that he still had much to accomplish for Christ and described to him the glorious city that would someday build there and the honor they would render to his relics. Of course this legend is without historical foundation and seems to have been a 13th century fabrication designed to justify the stealing of Saint Mark relics by claiming the transfer pre-ordained and legitimate.

The legend of the ‘rescue’ of the body claims that in 827 ten Venetians ships on a voyage to the East were forced to seek refuge from a storm in the Arab-controlled port of Alexandria. Among the merchants, there were Buono and Rustico who became friendly with a monk called Theodore from the Christian church that hosted the remains of Saint Mark. Fearing that the Moslems might destroy the relics, Theodore proposed the two Venetians to rescue the body from danger. Theodore helped them smuggle the body past the Arab customs inspector by covering it with pork. When they returned to Venice, Doge Giustiniano was very happy about the news of the relics and he welcomed the two merchants with a big procession. Then he began to build a splendid church to contain the relics next to his palace, the original Basilica di San Marco.

Every April 25th Venice celebrates St. Marcus, who died on April 25 in 68 AD. Today the commemoration is reduced only to the 25th of April, but at the times of the Repubblica people used to celebrate also on the 31st of January (dies translationis corporis day of the transport of the body) and on the 25th of June, the day when the relics were placed in St.Mark’s Basilica.

In ancient times on this day a big procession took place in Piazza San Marco; religious and civil authorities as well as a deputy of artists took part in it. Also nowadays St. Marcus Day is celebrated with a procession in the Basilica. In the morning, there is a solemn mass in the Basilica, followed by a gondola regatta between the island of Sant’Elena and Punta della Dogana. In occasion of this fest Venetians males use to gift a bocolo (red rose bloom) to their beloved; about the origin of this gift we know two legendary hypothesis.

One is related to the story of the troubled love between the noblewoman Maria Partecipazio and Tancredi the troubadour. In the aim to overcome the social class differences, Tancredi went to the war seeking for an army glory to high himself to the upper level of his beloved. Unfortunately, after serving as a valiant soldier, he died and fell over a rose bed that become red by his blood. Before he dies, Tancredi asked Orlando, the paladin, to bring a bloom from that plant to Maria, his love. Orlando kept the promise, reached Venice the day before St. Mark Day, and gave the bloom Maria. The morning after Maria was found dead herself, with the red bloom on her heart.

The other legend suggests that the tradition of the bocolo came from the rose bed growing aside St. Mark’s grave. The plant was a gift for sailor from called Basilio, as a prize for his cooperation in the rescue of the Saint Body to Venice from Alexandria. The rosary was planted in the garden of Basilio, but when he died it became the borderline of the property divided in two parts by Basilio´s sons. The two branches of the family became later rival, with some blood too, and the plants stopped flowering. Many years later in a 25th of April, a first-sight love sparkled between a girl from one branch of Basilio’s family and a boy belonging to the other. They fell in love looking each other through the rose bed dividing the properties. Their love reunified the two families and in memory of this happy end Venetians still now offer the red rose bloom to their beloved ladies.