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St. Mark’s relics: a matter of faith

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

Where other cities were founded on faith or ideas, the bedrock of la Serenissima (Venice) was mercantile.” Venetian nobles traveled everywhere in the Eastern countries to accomplish their business. Right from the start they have always been at the forefront of the spices market and Egypt was one of their main destinations.

In the mid-first century A.D. its most famous city, Alexandria, became seat of St. Mark’s bishopry. At that time he had already written his Gospel in Rome and St. Peter, the Apostle, had assigned him to Egypt, where he founded the Christian church.

Centuries after his death, his relics were translated from Alexandria to Venice by two Venetian merchants. His body was hidden under a mound of pork, that Muslim officers at the custom did not inspect. (see picture). With this furta sacra (“holy theft”), the Venetian republic linked its history to the name of St. Mark’s for ever. Flags, statues, and buildings all did adopt the evangelist’s symbol of the winged lion. There is even a whole neighborhood named after him — San Marco and of course a church was built to preserve his relics, called St. Mark’s church.

By acquiring the remains of such an exclusive figure it would undoubtedly bring social and economic benefits. On top of that, it would serve to reinforce the impending liberation from Byzantine control by legitimizing the authority of the Venetian Doge.

Moreover, the course of Venetian history changed plausibly and gave way to Venice to buttress its ecclesiastical independence.

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