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History and Origins of the Feast of San Marco

 

The Feast of Saint Mark, celebrated on April 25th, is one of the most significant occasions in the city of Venice. On this date, the city commemorates Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice, whose history is intrinsically linked to the city since the transfer of his relics from Egypt in the 9th century.

 

The Basilica of San Marco, which dominates St. Mark’s Square with its marvellous Byzantine architecture, houses the saint’s relics and represents the spiritual heart of the city.

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Procession in St. Mark's Square by Gentile Bellini, 1496

The symbolism of St Mark’s winged lion, the emblem of Venice, originates from an ancient legend: it is said that Mark, sent by Peter to evangelise Aquileia, was shipwrecked on his way from Rome. Finding refuge in a fishermen’s hut near Rialto, he received a revelation from an angel in the form of a winged lion in a dream:

Pax tibi Marce Evangelista meus, hic requiescet corpus tuum  

Peace be upon thee, Mark, my evangelist. Here shall thy body rest

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"Lion of Saint Mark", Vittore Carpaccio, 1516

Mark’s fate was already prophetically marked by this apparition.
The story of this legend helps to seal the city’s eternal link with the martyred evangelist from Alexandria and, above all, with his iconographic representation.
In Christian symbolism, the lion represents Christ, but it inherits all the meanings attributed to it by the Hellenic and Roman cultures, where it was associated with the god Apollo.

 

Adopted by the Serenissima Republic in the 12th century as a symbol of political and economic power, it still conveys the same idea of strength and courage.

Legends help to create a strong sense of identity and this is how Venice likes to present itself: powerful, wise, strong, righteous, pious, spiritual, like the winged lion of St Mark.

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One of the oldest representations of the Lion of Saint Mark: the Lion 'in moeca' rising from the water from the 13th century.

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Traditions and Symbols: From the Kiss to the Regatta

 

Faith, art and history come together in this festival that also tells the story of love in Venice: a love that tried to overcome social barriers.

The love between Maria, daughter of Doge Orso I Partecipazio, and the young storyteller Tancredi.

 

To redeem his humble origins Tancredi volunteered to fight the Moors of Spain, ordered by Charlemagne. He became famous for his bravery, but in battle he was mortally wounded and fell on white roses, staining the flowers with his own blood. As a final gesture of love, he entrusted a rosebud to his companion Orlando to give to his beloved Maria.

The red rose, stained with Tancredi’s blood, arrived in Venice on 25 April. On 26 April, Maria died of grief, holding in her hands the gift from her beloved.

 

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Every year, Caffè Florian presents its guests with a rose bud to support the worthy work of the Italian Red Cross.

Since then, this pure and sacrificial love has become a symbol of joyful promises of love. Today, the festival has become a collective celebration of love and chivalry, marked by the gift of the “bocolo”, as it is called in Venetian, to each woman.

This symbolic gesture takes place in the romantic setting of St Mark’s Square, where couples of all ages gather to share a kiss, perpetuating the tradition in an atmosphere of celebration and community.

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Italian Red Cross "buds" along the Grand Canal

The Festa is also the occasion to organise the Venetian rowing regattas that animate the canals. This timeless event celebrates the rich maritime heritage of Venice, and is of the most picturesque and traditional aspects of the Venetian festivities. These competitions are a renewed tribute to the history of Venice, as well as a demonstration of the skill and passion of Venetian rowers.

The water is both the stage and the star: join us in witnessing this timeless tradition where the rhythmic oars echo Venice’s seafaring legacy!

 

 

The Feast of San Marco Today

 

St Mark’s Day is celebrated today on 25 April, but historically it has taken place on three different dates, linked to different historical moments:

 

The Traslatio, the celebration of the translation of St Mark to Venice on 31 January 828, when two Venetian merchants, Rustico da Torcello and Bono da Malamocco, with the help of a servant called Basilio, smuggled the body of St Mark. To evade inspection, they covered it with pork, considered unclean by Muslims, and transported it from Egypt to Venice.

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"The Finding of the Body of St. Mark", Jacopo Tintoretto

The Inventio, the celebration of the discovery of the remains in a column on 25 June 1094 during the celebration of the Mass for the consecration of the Basilica dedicated to the Evangelist.

The Martyrdom, the 25th of April, is instead the solemn date that the Serenissima decided to dedicate to the Saint. It is the only one of the three dates that has been kept and it contains all the magic of the other celebrations.

 

Today, the festival is transformed into a celebration of a gallant gesture. To give is to love.

 

Enriched with cultural and religious events, Venice welcomes tourists from all over the world, offering them a unique experience amidst the calli, campielli, waterways and the Grand Canal, enriched by special initiatives and accompanied by traditional food and wine.

The sense of community embraces and involves everyone on this occasion: Venetians and tourists celebrate together.

Festival Gastronomy: Typical Dishes and Desserts

 

During St Mark’s Day, Venetian gastronomy celebrates tradition and seasonality with dishes that reflect the cultural richness of the city.

 

‘Fugassa venexiana’, a leavened cake similar to panettone, is a classic example of how Venetians celebrate abundance.

 

‘Risi e bisi’, rice and peas, is another traditional dish that pays homage to the Venetian spring with its simplicity and the freshness of its ingredients. These dishes are not only culinary delights, but also expressions of a history and heritage handed down from generation to generation, keeping alive Venice’s roots and identity.

sanmarcobocolo - Copia

The rosebud, 'bocolo' in venetian, is the star of the day dedicated to love.

On 25 April, tradition has it that the same poetic homage is repeated: Caffè Florian is happy to present its guests with a rosebud, just as every Venetian does with her beloved.

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San Marco libera uno schiavo, Tintoretto 1518-1594
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  • 25 aprile
  • Caffè
  • caffeflorian1720
  • Festa del Bocolo
  • Florian
  • vivivenezia

To give is to love

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