Saint Mark’s Basilica, which can be found in Venice Italy, has been considered to be the most important church in the said region since the early Christian period. However, it was only in 1807 when the said basilica became the official cathedral of Venice, replacing the Church of San Pietro di Castello. Due to its remarkable and authentic design, Saint Mark’s Basilica is noted as one of Europe’s most glorious and eccentric cathedrals.
As it was said, no visitor or pilgrim can remain dispassionate about the specified cathedral once confronted by it (Belford, Dunford, Andrews, and Woolfrey). However, there are others who are confused once the details of the cathedral come into perspective. Whether it may appear delightful or not, analyzing the building’s history would help in understanding its eccentricities and would also shed light on its roles in religious faith and its contributions on the politics and prestige of Venice.
The Story of the Basilica Situated at the heart of Venice, Italy, Saint Mark’s Cathedral has long been recognized as the leading representation of the Venetian faith and political memoir. True enough, such adherence to their religiosity is a result of the church and government’s embrace of Christianity as the leading force behind the cathedral’s establishment and the mark of religiosity among its citizens.
From the past until the present, the Venetian government’s adage “Prima di tutto Venziani, poi Cristiani,” which, when translated in English, means “First above all Venetians, then Christians,” is considered as the defining factor of the Venetian living because it widely represents the subordination of the church to the state, yet the religion maintains its power over the republic because of its capability to represent the people’s beliefs. Venetians believe that Venice is God’s chosen city wherein he infused his grace through the aid of their patron saint, Saint Mark the Evangelist (Bershad, Mangone, and Hexham 205).
The strong link that binds the spiritual faith and governance of Venice had its roots from the rich history of the renowned Saint Mark’s Basilica and the legends surrounding the interment of Saint Mark’s body in the said edifice. The Legends Three notable legends were said to be responsible for the rise of Saint Mark’s Cathedral as a religious representation of the people’s faith and the force behind Venice’s political array: The “praedestinato” (predestinate), “translatio” (translation), and the “inventio” (invention).
Praedestinato claims that while preaching throughout Italy, Saint Mark, together with his companion, made a stop at the Venetian lagoons and formed an immediate bond with the people within the area. Upon returning to Rome, Saint Mark and his colleague encountered a storm leading them to sought temporary shelter in the Venetian lagoon. In his state of repose, an angel came to Saint Mark and told him “Pax tibi, Marcae. Hic requiescet corpus tuum” or “Peace Mark. Here your body will rest. The angel also informed Mark that at some point in history, the settlers in Venice would build his burial spot in that area, because if they do God will be giving them graces through Saint Mark’s intercession. With the given perspective it is believed that Christianity came about in Venice through Saint Mark (Bershad, Mangone and Hexham 205-206). The founder’s of Venice were said to have been notably persuaded by the idea of the city’s sacred ordination through the intercession of Saint Mark’s body.
Hence, in order to fulfill the specified angelic prophecy, it was said that Saint Mark’s body was stolen from Alexandria and was brought to Venice. This story then encompasses the second legend, the “translatio. ” According to the legend, the theft of Saint Mark’s body occurred in 828. Venetian ships were blown off course and found Alexandria. An unnamed monk and a priest were members of the church that housed the remains of Saint Mark. The two holy men were befriended by two Venetian merchants named Bruno da Malamocco and Rustico da Torcello.
In one event, the Muslims within the Alexandrian region threatened to destroy the church where Saint Mark’s body can be found. Hence, such threat catapulted Malamocco and Torcello to steal the Saint’s body and brought it to Venice to present it to the doge, the elected head of the state of Venice and Genoa (Bershad, Mangone, and Hexham 206). It is worthy to note that in those days, relics were regarded as powerful objects that serve as unifiers for social and economic entities because they attract both pilgrims and merchants alike.
As such, relics were all welcomed, and that of Saint Mark was highly regarded because of the first legend that surrounds the patron’s intercession’s perceived grace. With the presentation of the acquired relic of Saint Mark to Doge Giustiniano Particiaco, the gift giving formed the permanent union between the spiritual and political realms of Venice (Bershad, Mangone and Hexham 206). According to legend, soon after the arrival of Saint Mark’s relics in 829, the first structure of the Saint Mark’s Basilica was commissioned.
Modeled from the church of the 12 Apostles in Constantinople, the shrine of Saint Mark was then consecrated in 832. The third and final legend, the “inventio” or the apparition did not take place until 1094. During 976, an uprising against the doge caused a great fire that ruined the Palazzio Ducale (Ducale Palace) and the church that housed Saint Mark’s relics. Although the subsequent church was rebuilt right after the incident, the relics of the patron saint remained lost until 1094 despite numerous searches.
A doge ordered a fast that tested the citizens’ piety and obedience. On the third day of the fast, a miracle took place. The ghost of Saint Mark was said to have appeared and filled the church with a sweet aroma. At that point, the basilica was consecrated, and Saint Mark’s body was finally laid to rest. The “inventio” was noted to have combined the religious and civic values among the Venetian’s because it is believed that right after the previous legends; God had given the Venetians their political authority.
By replacing their former patron Saint Theodore, who has a symbolic link to the Byzantium, to Saint Mark, it is said that the Venetians finally acquired their freedom from the Byzantium (Bershad, Mangone, and Hexham 207). Saint Mark’s Basilica: Religious and Political Significance Over the course of the basilica’s history, the edifice played significant roles both in the accumulation of Venice’s political prowess and religious perspective. San Marco served as the mirror of Venice’s increasing power and self-confidence.
Though initially created out of a spare brick building modeled to a Byzantine edifice, the basilica became a landmark that was completely and intricately detailed of luxurious embellishment which was derived from the donations of the faithful. As Venice attained its mastery within the Mediterranean area, the city became well-known as the location of the region’s most confessional shrine, marking Venice as the city free from the autonomy of any foreign influence (McGregor).
As Saint Mark’s basilica became an important edifice to the whole city, a tutelary church which represents both the commune and the community, it has then become the annex of the state, an avenue where politics and religion meet (Jones). During its earlier phase, the doge was elected at the Ducal Palace and was then presented to the citizens from the Saint Mark Basilica’s right hand pulpit, which later on, upon the doge’s tenure, would become exclusively his (Procuratoria di San Marco Venezia).
Back in the earlier part of the basilica’s development, the head of state was increasingly invested through semi-sacral powers. Hence, dogeship became an efficient and dignified part of the constitution, thereby placing the doge in the position that outranks the bishops and the patriarch. Under the banner of Saint Mark and under the leadership of the doge, the state then became a secular church which had their own traditions, iconography and feast days, enabled the people to practice patriotism and piety, and treated sovereignty as a divine possession (Jones).
Saint Mark’s Basilica, being the state church, also served as an avenue for the city’s official ceremonies. Some of the notable ceremonies that took place in the basilica were the blessing of the soldiers, the 1177 Peace of Venice, 1201 assembly of Saint Mark’s crusaders from all of Europe that were about to depart to Holy Land to ask for protection and divine aid, and the 1377’s doge’s grant of leadership to defend the city addressed to Vettor Pisani.
Other than these, Saint Mark’s Basilica was also considered as the rendezvous for prayer among the Venetians during moments of great pain such as the 1576 voting of building the temple of Christ the Redeemer, 1630’s prayer of intervention for the vote to build a temple for the virgin in order to free the city from plagues, and lastly during the end of Venice’s independence in 1797.
The Basilica was also a reference point, for many merchants and sailors that journeyed by land and sea contributed in keeping the edifice a monumental mark of faith and a testimony of Venice’s greatness by giving out precious gifts, art treasures and marbles, which are still evident today (Procuratoria di San Marco Venezia). 12th of May 1797, the troops of Napoleon invaded the city of Venice. For the foregoing reason, Saint Mark’s basilica’s reign as the state church under the authority of the Doges of the Venetian Republic was brought to an end.
It was in 1807 when the cathedral became the official seat for the Patriarch’s of Venice. Due to Napoleon’s orders, Saint Mark’s eventually lost the functions of the Doge’s chapel, and since then, it has been hailed as the city cathedral (Procuratoria di San Marco Venezia). Although some of the aforementioned functions of the cathedral were lost during Napoleon’s reign over Venice, it is still evident from the given facts that Saint Mark’s Basilica was one of the main forces that drove the once fragmented island of primitive Venice into a city that is unified by belief and nationalism.
With the Basilica’s history and its link to the spread of Christianity, Saint Mark Cathedral continuously attracts thousand of pilgrims to date, adding up to the prestige of present day Venice. Saint Mark’s Basilica: A site of pilgrimage In the quest for a votive purpose, pilgrimage has been an important aspect in many religions because it embodies one’s faith over the divine deity. Long journeys toward a sacred place or shrine play a significant role not only in uplifting the faith of an individual but also in serving as an avenue to seek for moral significance.
The focal point of pilgrimages is inclined to celebrating religion. Saint Mark’s Basilica is among the many holy places that are embarked upon by many pilgrims. The fact that that the relics of Saint Mark can be found in the said area, thousands of pilgrims yearly flock to Venice in order to seek his intervention through prayers. Being the center of the Venetian faith and once a political entity, Saint Mark’s Basilica can be seen as an avenue where one can witness the grandiosity of Venice balanced by its deep religiosity and history.
As the eternal symbol of faith and Christendom, Saint Mark’s Cathedral is also well noted as the eternal representation of the city’s wealth, power, and history, as seen with its apostolic reliquary of arts that glorify the history of Venice and its role in the interconnectedness of the church and the state. For the foregoing, one can easily assume that Saint Mark’s Basilica, aside from its religious significance, also contributes to the prestige of Venice through pilgrimages.
The site serves as an area for an economic phenomenon because of its capability to motivate the pilgrims to embark on a journey through its historical and inspiring account of miracles as well as the desire of the people to keep the spirit of Saint Mark alive. However, perhaps it should not be excluded that another reason for Saint Mark’s popularity, contributing to Venice’s prestige is indebted to its detailed architecture, mosaics and enough plundered sculptures that can satisfy any human.
No other church in Europe is lavishly decorated, exquisitely mosaicked and more glittering than gold other than San Marco. Hence, it is also known as the “Chiesa De Oro” or the “Golden Church. ” The spiritual material and Byzantium heritage of the West inspired the architecture of Saint Mark’s Basilica. The structure stands in a Greek cross plan, and above the cross are five cupolas which are said to represent the presence of God over the church (Procuratoria di San Marco Venezia).
Covering the cathedral’s old ceilings, atriums, walls, and multiple domes are more than 8000 square meters of mosaics created between the 12th and 17th centuries by eastern masters. The mosaic represents biblical stories from the old and new testaments, allegorical individuals, and events in the lives of Christ, Virgin Mary, Saint Mark, and other saints. The interaction of the mosaics’ warm color, most especially gold with the dim light that changes color according to the time of the day, is said to promote evocative feelings among its visitors.
More importantly, the mosaics serve as a significant evidence of the Venetian people’s ambitions and faith (Procuratoria di San Marco Venezia). The sculptures present within the church also add up to the richness of its history, as each culture is generated from different epochs and origins. Saint Mark’s treasures are also highly regarded because they are considered to be the richest documentation of the most refined items found in the basilica such as gold, silver and precious stones, which celebrate the craftsmanship of the Venetians.
Pala d’Oro, the most important piece of treasure in the church, is the high altar that contains the relics of Venice’s patron saint, Saint Mark (Procuratoria di San Marco Venezia). Other than these, almost all of the areas found within the basilica like the baptistery alcove and the Marciano Museum are truly cultural treasures that add pride to the Venetian culture and religious perspective (Procuratoria di San Marco Venezia).
Perhaps, the only disappointing aspect about the architecture of San Marco is the fact that the value of pilgrimage is undermined by the desire of the visitors to merely witness the basilica’s architecture and not to regard its spiritual value. Conclusion Based on the information provided, it can be gleaned that the Basilica of Saint Mark played a significant role in the religious and political aspect of the Venetians way of life. Religiously, the basilica was established out of the faith of the citizens that God chose the city of Venice to infuse his grace through the aid of Saint Mark.
As such, the state, in its subjugation to the religion, used Saint Mark’s Basilica as the edifice that would serve as the testimony of Venetian faith and political power. Other than this, as the tutelary church of Venice, Saint Mark’s Basilica was a strong symbolism of community and commune where the state citizens, despite being run by Doges, believed that they were under God’s grace, and that the interconnectedness of the church and the state was endowed by God to be supported.
Most importantly, Saint Mark’s Basilica served as an important force that unified the whole city of Venice. From a city that was once a refuge for people of dependence to the Byzantium, the basilica became the focal point of the Venetians’ freedom from Byzantium regime. Currently, the rich history and religious significance of Saint Mark’s Basilica is still evident through the maintenance of the edifice together with Saint Mark’s relics.
The basilica’s spread of Christendom continued as well through the pilgrims who sought to uplift their faith and seek for their moral significance. By allowing people to venture inside the basilica, modern day people are able to take a glimpse of the face of past Christendom and would be able to imbibe within themselves the contribution of the said church in the spread of Christian faith. In this sense, Saint Mark’s Basilica then and now truly adds prestige to the Venetian culture.
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