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San Marco Feast, Saint Mark's Feast: April 25th in Venice

Saint ark's Feast in Venice: hours, date, history and useful information.
Saint Mark's Procession
Saint Mark's Feast
(Giovanni Bellini - San Marco's Procession, 1496)

On April 25th Italy celebrates the liberation from Nazi-fascism, but for Venice and for the Venetians April 25th is a much more ancient tradition than the current national holiday: it is the feast of St. Mark, patron saint of the city.

San Marco in Venice is also the time of the tradition of bócolo which consists in giving the loved one a rose bud.

Program celebrations in Saint Mark's Square

Show starts at 3.45pm:

- Parade of 100 figures in vintage uniform of the Marine Regiments and Treviso from the Columns of San Marco to the Correr Museum.
- String quartet and three wind instruments conducted by the Teacher Cecilia Franchini of the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory; and historical dances of the Venetian eighteenth century with dancers in period dress.
- Reenactment of the clashes between Nicolotti and Castellani with the participation of martial arts athletes from the Venetian schools.
- Singing performance by the mezzo-soprano Karine Ohanyan and actress Elisabetta Bonazza on a piece narrating the tradition of bòcolo.

Palazzo Ducale at 5pm:

- Delivery of the San Marco Award

San Marco Feast Award

A more recent tradition is that of enhancing the Venetian excellences at San Marco; people who have distinguished themselves in science and the arts, in work and in sport, in school or in safety or even with social, welfare and philanthropic initiatives. The municipal administration, with a ceremony held in the afternoon of April 25th, gives a symbolic recognition during the ceremony that takes place in the presence of the current mayor in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in Palazzo Ducale.

History of the Feast of Saint Mark

The relics of San Marco were stolen from Alexandria in Egypt and transported to Venice in 828 by two legendary Venetian merchants: Rustico da Torcello and Buono da Malamocco. It is said that in order to steal the body of San Marco, the two merchants hid it under a load of pork that managed to pass without inspection the customs because of the well-known contempt of Muslims for this food.

The relic of San Marco was greeted with great joy in Venice, not only for its function of attracting pilgrims from all over Europe to Venice, but also because the Venetian history tells us that the evangelist Mark, a disciple of the apostle Paul before and then of Peter, while he was alive, he would evangelize the Venetian people and become their patron. San Marco thus became the patron and emblem of the city assuming the appearance of a winged lion wielding a sword and holding a book between its paws on whose open pages we read: Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus (Peace to You Mark My Evangelist).

At the time of the Serenissima Republic, on April 25th a procession took place in Piazza San Marco attended by religious authorities, civilians and representatives of the arts, but the celebrations took place also on January 31st, the day in which the body of the saint was transported to Venice, and on June 25th, the day when the relics were found in the Basilica of St. Mark in 1094.
In fact, the previous church of San Marco with a central plan was destroyed during the fire which broke out in 972 following a popular uprising against the Doge Pietro Candiano IV, and for this the memory of the place where the precious relic had been placed was lost also because the site had been kept hidden and known to a few for fear of a theft.
After various searches so, in June 1094, the Doge Vitale Falier established a three-day fast with a solemn precession in the fourth for Venice to get the body back. And the miracle happened: the stones of an ancient column, that was later belived to be part of the previous basilica, fell and left appear the ark where the body was located.

Nowadays the religious commemoration takes place only on April 25th, the date of the death of San Marco, but still today is celebrated with a procession in the Basilica of San Marco, in which the religious and civil authorities of the city participate.

April 25th in Venice is also the Festa del Bocolo and it is tradition to give a bòcolo, that is a rosebud, to the beloved woman.

The tradition of the bócoło of San Marco

The tradition of bócolo dates back to the 9th century AD and sees as protagonist Mary called Vulcania, daughter of the doge Angelo Partecipazio (810 - 827), who fell in love with a young troubadour called Tancredi and saw her father opposes his union due to obvious lineage differences between the two young men. Maria's idea was then to ask Tancredi to leave with the army of the Franks commanded by Charlemagne to fight the Arabs in Spain; he would thus have achieved fame and glory and the Doge would have consented to their marriage. And so Tancredi did and was distinguished by value on the battlefield and his fame soon spread throughout Europe reaching even Venice for Maria's happiness.

But one day in Venice came Orlando, the famous knight who fell in the Battle of Roncesvalles on 15 August 778 and then celebrated in the famous epic poem of the Chanson de Roland, who announced to Mary the death of Tancredi on the battlefield. Tancredi however, fell dying on a rose, had the strength to collect a rose soaked in his blood asking to deliver it to the beloved woman. The young woman, having received the flower, pressed herself in silence for Tancredi's death and the end of her love. The next day she was found dead with the flower in her hands; it was Saint Mark's day.

From that day in Venice it was used and is still used today to give a red rose bud to its own half.

Historical inconsistencies

The story certainly presents problems of congruence especially in the chronology because Angelo Partecipazio, 10th doge of the Serenissima, was born in the second half of the 8th century so that his daughter could have been of marriageable age only around 800, about 22 years after death of Orlando at Roncesvalles.

But even wishing to treat the character of Orlando as a posthumous insert, operated to give importance to tradition, remains an even greater problem: following the proclamation of Charlemagne as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Byzantium reacted badly, considering itself the only true heir of Rome. In Venice the two pro-Frankish and pro-Byzantine political currents had been in conflict for decades and the Doge Angelo Partecipazio came to the throne only after the Byzantine commander Arsafio deposed his predecessor Obelerio, who was pro-Franks. In short, the Doge Partecipazio, being pro-Byzantine, would hardly have appreciated Tancredi's deeds alongside the Franks.

To find another doge who weaves political relations with the Franks, one must wait for Pietro Tradonico (840 - 864) who sanctioned with Lothair I the Lotus Pact (840) which recognized the independence of Venice. But Pietro also knew how to make himself be recognized by Byzantium as consul, starting Venice towards political and commercial independence that made her great.

Finally, the body of San Marco arrived in Venice only in 828, a year after the death of Angelo Partecipazio, when his son Giustiniano was on the Doge's throne; only then San Marco replaced San Teodoro as the patron saint of the city of Venice.



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