St. Mark’s Festival of Venice, Italy, or Festa di San Marco, is an important religious observation of the city’s beloved patron, Saint Mark, who perished on April 25, 68 A.D. Saint Mark was one of Christ’s disciples and the author of the Gospel of Mark.
The commemoration of Saint Mark also came to be celebrated as Liberation Day, when Italy gained its independence on April 25, 1945. It is also the day when Italians honour their fallen soldiers. Prior to that, however, Venetians marked April 25 as Rosebud Day, or Festival of the Blooming Rose.
Starting in the year 828, two Venetian merchants, Buono da Malamocco and Rustico da Torcello, smuggled Saint Mark’s remains over to Venice bypassing Turkish inspections as they hid the relics within a stock of pork meat. Turkish customs officials were disgusted by the smell of pork. Hence, the wise merchants’ ploy was never uncovered.
Back in those days, relics were widely cherished and Malamocco and Torcello knew this. Their keen public relations strategy, if you will, attracted pilgrims to Venice, taking them away from rural settings and into the city.
Under the shape of the winged lion, the body of Saint Mark was adulated and he then became exalted as the Patron Saint of Venice. Stories recounted by Venetians at the time revealed that Saint Mark’s evangelical contributions to the city’s residents were immense and resulted in waves of gratitude from Venetians as well as all of Italy, if not many across continents.
Under Serenissima rule, Venetians and Italians would also celebrate St. Mark on the 31 st of January. June 25 was the day the relic was finally transported to St. Mark’s Basilica, however. Dies translatinis corporis refers to the day of the transport of the Holy Body. Over time, Venice would come to celebrate their patron, Saint Mark, only on the 25th of April.
Some rather fascinating tales are affiliated with the commemorations of Saint Mark in Venice. First, history has it that a sea storm ravished Venice in 1340. While navigating the terrible storm, a knight came upon a man who was repairing his boat. The knight invited him to sail aboard his vessel after collecting two other knights before setting back out to sea.
The Venice storm was eventually defeated by these three knights, who were none other than Saint’s Mark, George and Nicola. The saints presented the boatman with a ring which was then turned over to the Duke of Venice, Bartolomeo Gradenigo, for eventual preservation along with other St. Mark’s treasures.
The second tradition of St. Mark’s Festival, or, more specifically, Festival of the Blooming Rose, speaks of romance, love and reconciliation. It starts with a rose bush that began growing alongside St. Mark’s grave. Basilio, one of the merchant sailors who delivered St. Mark’s remains to Venice, was gifted this rosebush. He planted it on his property and the land was eventually divided in half and inherited by Basilio’s two sons.
The rosebush actually fell within the two properties’ borders. The brothers eventually became rivals and a family feud ensued. The rosebush, which was considered representative of the families’ bad blood, considerably wilted, along with the familial relationships, and all but died.
Then, on April 25 several years later, love, along with the rosebush, blossomed between two youth, a gentleman and woman from each of the families who had long since been admiring one other, stealing glances across the rosebush leaves and branches. Indeed their love perpetuated and dissipated the barriers between the two families with the young man declaring his love to the woman by giving her one of the roses (boccolo) from the famed bush on April 25.
The other tale surrounding the Festival of the Blooming Rose in Venice describes a romance between noblewoman Maria Partecipazio and Tancredi the troubadour. Tancredi was a commoner who had the occasion to meet and fall in love with Maria, and she with him. In order to heighten his Venetian social status and to solidify their love, Tancredi enrolled in the Venetian Army with the hopes of receiving high honours in battle.
Unfortunately, he was killed during the war against the Arabians in Spain, falling against a thorny rose bed becoming ever redder by his shedding blood. Whilst dying, Tancredi requested that fellow soldier, Orlando the paladin, carry a rose bloom from the bed and present it on his behalf to Lady Maria Partecipazio, thus signifying his love for her.
One day prior to Saint Mark’s Patron Day, on the 24th of April, Orlando arrived in Venice and, as per Tancredi’s dying wish, gave Maria the rose. Venetian history then dictates that Maria died on the 25th of April, with the rose placed on her broken heart. Ever since then, the rose has resembled love and romance, not only in Venice, but worldwide.
While St. Mark’s Festival is celebrated around the world from April 23 to April 25, Venice saves just one day for the special commemorations: April 25. The day begins by a Mass that is held at the Patriarch of Venice. This is followed by music and celebrations including dancing, concerts and even carnivals. Tourists to Venice are always welcome to join in the national holiday.
Venice events include the Regata di Traghetti, which is a boat race held during St. Mark’s Festival featuring gondoliers who compete while transporting passengers in their colourful gondolas and ferries all the way from Castello Gardens on the Grand Canal to the Santa Sofia buoy. The finish point is next to St. Mark’s Pier.
Few Italy tourist attractions are as romantic, and visitors can extend their stay in Venice through the 28th of April when the romantic city hosts an Italian food festival because, after all, even romance needs to be fed! This signifies the feast of St. Mark which is held at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Venice. Further entertainment continues amidst a variety of common and specialty Italian food served by local vendors.
While planning things to do in Venice on or around April 25, visitors will notice women carrying single red roses they’ve received from their lovers, husbands, male friends, sons or brothers. Whether lore or fact, these stories signify much that is good, romantic and loving in Venetians, and lend themselves well to the history of St. Mark’s Festival, one of the many traditional celebrations in Venice.