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The legendary history of the patron of Venice

Mark the Evangelist is the patron of Venice: his feast day is celebrated on April 25, and his symbol is the lion. Tradition identifies him with author of the Gospel of Mark, said to be the disciple and interpreter of Saint Peter, and the follower and Apostle of Jesus Christ. About 10 to 20 years after the ascension of Christ, Saint Mark traveled to Alexandria and formed what is now known as the Coptic Orthodox Church. Aspects of the Coptic liturgy can be traced back to Saint Mark. He became its first bishop and founder of Christianity in Africa.

What is the connection between St. Mark and Venice? We have to look for it in the Medieval history. Actually, in 828, some relics believed to be the body of St. Mark were stolen from Alexandria by two Venetian merchants and taken to Venice, where the Byzantine Theodore of Amasea had previously been the patron saint. Therefore a basilica was built there to house the relics: the unique and famous St. Mark Basilica, which has become the symbol of Venice.

There is a mosaic on the basilica showing how the sailors covered the relics with a layer of pork. Since Muslims are not allowed to touch pork, this action was done to prevent Muslim intervention in the relics removal. Moreover, according to tradition, in 1094 the saint himself revealed the location of his remains by extending an arm from a pillar. The newfound remains were placed in a sarcophagus in the basilica.

Nevertheless, the destiny of the relics of the Saint is vexed: copts believe that his head remained in Alexandria. Every year, on the 30th day of the month of Babah, the Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates the commemoration of the consecration of the church of St. Mark, and the appearance of the head of the saint in the city of Alexandria. This takes place inside St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria, where the saint’s head is preserved.

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