The relics of San Marco, who also founded the Church of Alexandria in Egypt and passed away there, were stollen from Alexandria in in the year 828 by the Venetian merchants Rustico di Torcello and Buono di Malamocco. Legend has it that, in order to smuggle the remains of the Saint out of Egypt, the clever merchants covered his body with pork which they knew the muslim customs inspectors at the Egyptian boarder would not touch. Though there were many parishes and regions that would have liked to lay claim to the remains of Saint Mark, it is said that, when Mark arrived in the lagoon of Venice, an angel appeared to him and said, "Peace be with you, Mark, my evangelist, here your body will rest." Thus, is the spiriting of the Saint home to Venice justified.
Of course, as is often the case in Venice, the theft of the Saint may have been both religiously and commercially motived. Saint Mark did evangelize Venice and it is said that many Venetians made the pilgrimage to Alexandria to visit his grave before the relic was brought home to Venice. Relics do attract pilgrims. So does Venice! Perhaps more than usual this Saturday, 25 April 2015...
There will be formal processions through Piazza San Marco and the Basilica di San Marco. There will be public gatherings of every civic organization in Venice and many from the Veneto as well. The Arsenale, normally closed to the public, will be open Saturday April 25th and Sunday April 26th and will host exhibitions and live music. There will be lots and lots of flag waving and music. And yes, there are certain to be political demonstrations as well.
What do we visitors really need to understand? Perhaps two things: 1. There are going to be Venetians, hopefully thousands of them, in the center of Venice to celebrate their City and their patron saint. 2. While it might look serious with all those flags and winged lions, at heart it is a party in celebration of Saint Mark who evangelized Venice and whose remains attracted pilgrims to the city. I'm sure that even today those pilgrims who take an interest will be welcomed to join in the festivities!
What could we do?
- Lets definitely show some respect. The truth is that Venetians don't often flood into the central square of Venice these days. Lets let them pass.
- Show some lion pride! It might be the only day of the year when it's appropriate to wear your Venice gear while actually being in Venice! I'm gonna do it.
- Don't miss the chance to visit the Arsenale! There are innumerable events to choose from including guided tours, live music, rowing lessons, exhibitions.
- If you're curious about what's going on: ASK!