Learn About Visiting the Beautiful and Historic St. Mark’s Basilica

St. Mark’s Basilica or Basilica San Marco is one of Italy’s most visited cathedrals. It dominates one side of Piazza San Marco or Saint Mark’s Square, the main square of Venice, Italy. The square and the basilica are picture-perfect scenery centered on religious life. 

It is called St. Mark’s Basilica because it houses the sacred relics of St. Mark, the patron saint of the city. St. Mark is a catholic evangelist who witnessed many of Jesus Christ’s miracles and he wrote some of them in his Gospel book. In the bible, he is the author of the Gospel of Mark. He is known as apostle Mark or Mark the Evangelist. 

St. Mark was believed to be the Evangelist who evangelized the Venetians. Some merchants of Venice ‘stole’ the relics from Alexandria, Egypt. They passed by Muslim guards with the relics placed under layers of pork in barrels. The Venetians celebrated the arrival of the relics and built St. Mark’s Basilica in the 9th century. St. Mark became Venice’s patron and symbol. St. Mark’s Basilica became one of the most beautiful and historic cathedrals in Europe and around the world.

St. Mark as a child

St. Mark was born ‘John Mark’ in Cyrene, Libya in 12 AD. Cyrene was one of the oldest of the five Greek cities in the region, known as the Pentapolis.

He is of Jewish descent from the tribe of Levi. He lived in Pentapolis on the Northern African coast, west of Egypt. His family is rich and greatly honored. During St. Mark’s early childhood, barbarians attacked Pentapolis. St. Mark’s parents lost most of their possessions.

They migrated to Jerusalem. There, John Mark was still provided with good education and became fluent in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. 

St. Mark the Beholder of the Lord

His faith in the Lord Jesus Christ was evident even until adulthood as St. Mark was always associated with the ‘son of God.’ St. Mark’s presence at several events with the savior Jesus Christ is in the Holy Scriptures.

St. Mark was the man who was carrying the jar when the disciples went to prepare a place for the celebration of the Passover. In Mark 14:13-14, Luke 22:11, And Jesus said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say unto him, ‘The Master saith, “My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at thy house with My disciples.’ Also, he was present at the wedding of Cana in Galilee and he was the man who fled naked before the Crucifixion in Mark 14:51-52. The Coptic Church calls St. Mark, the ‘Theorimos’ which means the Beholder of the Lord.

St. Mark as the interpreter of St. Peter

St. Mark is known as St. Peter’s interpreter, both in speech and in writing. St. Peter is a cousin of the father of St. Mark and one of Jesus Christ’s original Apostles. He was a fisherman from Galilee who may not have spoken Greek fluently, so Mark interpreted for him. In his book, Mark wrote down the observations and memories of St. Peter about Jesus Christ.

To quote W.S Reily of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly, And the elder said to this: Mark having become the interpreter of Peter wrote down everything that he remembered without however recording in order what was either said or done by Christ… he made it his care not to omit anything he had heard, and he records only true statement therein… In the scholarly text, W.S. Reily further wrote that St. mark seems to be the interpreter of the prince of the apostles as he helped him put his Aramaic into Greek; that St. Mark helped St. Peter too to address those who speak only in Latin. 

rooftop with lion

The Lion of Saint Mark

When you visit St. Mark Basilica, this statue of the winged lion will catch your attention. The statue of St. Mark at the center is a holy sight to behold as well as the angels. But a look at the lion sculpture will make a visitor wonder about its symbolism.

At a closer look, the winged lion on the pinnacle is holding a scripture in its paw. The open book holds the legend Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista MEVS which in English means ‘Peace unto you, Mark, my Evangelist.’ The golden lion is the symbol of the city of Venice.  

It is worth knowing the two representations of the lion. One is derived from St. Mark’s description of St. John the Baptist as ‘The voice of the one who cries in the wilderness: Prepare Ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths”, which artists compared to a roaring lion. The wings come from Ezekiel 1:10 and the application of the prophet’s vision of four winged creatures to the evangelists appears again in Revelation 4:7.

The second connection of the lion comes from a tale recounted by Severus Ebn-El-Mokafa describing St. Mark as a follower of Christ even at a very young age. That St. Mark’s faith in Jesus Christ was proven when he and his father, Arostalis were traveling in Jordan when a raging lion and a lioness appeared to them. The father whose compassion for his son was even to his death told his son to escape while he distracted the wild beasts and awaited his fate. He was filled with fear.

by Jordan Lewis (Author)
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John Mark did not escape. Instead, he stood firm to meet the lions. He assured his father that the Lord Jesus Christ would save them. Then he began to pray. He made the sign of the cross to himself and to the attacking lions. In an instant, the lions became tamed and slowly moved to sit at his feet. Astonished, his Jewish father immediately believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. St. Mark is said to have baptized his father into Christianity.

Whatever symbolism a person will believe will still be geared to the conclusion that the winged lion in St. Mark’s Basilica symbolizes courage, pride, power, and magnificence. 

St. Mark

St. Mark the Apostle

St. Mark preached the Holy Gospel with St. Peter in Judea and Jerusalem. He joined St. Paul and St. Barnabas on their first journey to Antioch, Asia Minor, and Cyprus. He went to Cyprus with St. Barnabas.  It is told that certain Jews where Barnabas was then preaching the gospel got exasperated at his extraordinary success. They dragged him out of the synagogue, tortured him inhumanely, and stoned him to death.

After St. Barnabas’ death, St. Mark went with St. Paul and preached in Colossi and Venice. He evangelized in many places. Like all other apostles, he preached the teachings of Christ even in the most difficult situations. He preached at Pentapolis, Egypt, Alexandria, Berce, then Rome where he met Saints Peter and St. Paul. He remained steadfast in faith with other apostles. He witnessed the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul.

His real struggle took place in Africa. St. Mark then returned to Alexandria where he found the Christians had increased in number and had built a church in Buacalis. As soon as he returned, the growing number of Christians requested him to write down for them the teachings of the New Way. Assenting to this request and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel according to St. Mark was written.

St. Mark’s missionary work flourished. His zeal and strength from childhood had developed with maturity into one that was heroic. His preaching angered the pagan nobles. They decided to kill him at the feast of Serapis. During the feast, the nobles incited the crowds against St. Mark. They seized St. Mark at the church and tied a rope around him. Helpless, he suffered much as he was dragged from street to street and then put into prison so brutally hurt.

It was told that while in prison. the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him and said to quote, “Be strong, O my Evangelist, for tomorrow you shall receive the Crown of Martyrdom.” The next morning the pagans again dragged St. Mark through the streets until his head separated from the rest of his body. St. Mark’s death did not satisfy the savage pagans, they continued mocking the body of St. Mark. They then gathered a lot of firewood and prepared an inferno to burn him. Miraculously, a severe storm happened. The pagans fled away in fear. The believers came and took the holy body of St. Mark. They wrapped it up, placed it in a coffin, and prayed over him. They laid the coffin in a secret place in a catholic church. Eventually, some merchants of Venice ‘stole’ the relics and brought them to Venice to be openly honored.

St. Mark’s Basilica

St. Mark’s Basilica

This gleaming St. Mark’s Basilica is awesome! The religious magnetic appeal is heightened by the golden Byzantine mosaics which adorn the church’s main portal as well as the interior in each of the basilica’s five domes. Most of the astounding sculptures and other ornamentation at Saint Mark’s Basilica date from the 11th to the 13th centuries. The relics of the apostle St. Mark and the Pala d’Oro, a golden altarpiece decorated with priceless jewels make the visit memorable.

  • Hours: It is open from 9:30 in the morning until 5:00 in the afternoon, Mondays through Saturdays. On Sundays, the basilica is open from 9:30 A.M too until 4:30 p.m. The last entrance is usually 15 minutes before closing. On religious holidays, especially at Easter and Christmas, the basilica may open late or close early.
  • Admission: Admission to the basilica is free, but to enjoy viewing the special parts of the basilica complex, such as the Saint Mark’s Museum, Pala d’Oro, the Bell Tower, and the Treasury. visitors pay entrance fees. They are allowed approximately 10 minutes to walk through and admire the beauty of the basilica.
  • Mass: Make your visit complete and fulfilling by attending the holy mass. Like in any other churches, touring while the mass is going on is not allowed. Masses on special holidays, such as Easter and Christmas are celebrated with grand preparations and rituals hence people crowd the church.  
  • Restrictions: The church is a place of worship hence solemnity is expected. Visitors who are wearing immodest attire such as shorts, miniskirts, and sleeveless tops are not allowed to enter. The taking of pictures, shooting video, or bringing luggage into the Basilica are prohibited. All kinds of bags – shoulder bags, handbags, backpacks, and suitcases are not allowed into the Basilica. Visitors can deposit bags and other things for free at the Ateneo San Basso, just adjacent to the basilica.

St. Mark’s Basilica is adorned with precious artifacts and some materials are made of pure gold. It displays the Venetian’s devotion to the catholic beliefs as well as their pride in wealth and power. Experience these when you visit the beautiful and historic St. Mark’s Basilica.