St Mark's Day in Venice is an important religious observance of the city's beloved patron saint, St Mark, who died on 25 April 68 AD. St Mark was one of Christ's disciples and according to Mark, the author of the Gospel.
The commemoration of St Mark was also celebrated as Liberation Day, when Italy gained its independence on 25 April 1945. It is also the day on which Italians honour their fallen soldiers. Prior to 1945, Venetians celebrated 25 April as Rosebud Day, or Rose Blossom Festival.
In 31 January 828, two Venetian merchants, Buono da Malamocco and Rustico da Torcello, smuggled the remains of St Mark's to Venice. The two smugglers circumvented Turkish inspections by hiding the relics in a pork broth. Turkish customs officials, disgusted by the smell of pork, did not want to check. The merchants' stratagem was never discovered. In those days, relics were highly prized and Malamocco and Torcello knew this well. This stratagem, combined with the public relations skills of the two, led to the beginning of the repopulation of Venice, with an exodus from the countryside to the city.
Under the guise of the winged lion, the body of St. Mark was idolised, and he was later named the patron saint of Venice.
Under the rule of the Serenissima, Venetians and Italians celebrated St Mark three times a year. On 31 January the day the remains entered Venice thanks to Malamocco and Rustico. 25 June 1094 was the day the relic was finally transported to St Mark's Basilica. Today, Venetians celebrate St Mark's Day on 25 April to coincide with Liberation Day.
Some rather fascinating tales are linked to the commemoration of St Mark in Venice. Firstly, the story goes that a sea storm almost submerged Venice in 1340. During the storm, a fisherman who was taking shelter was approached by a knight who asked him to accompany him. The fisherman accepted. While they were sailing, the knight asked the fisherman to bring up two more shipwrecked knights before they left. It seems that the storm in Venice was finally gladdened by these three knights, who were none other than St. Mark, St. George and St. Nicholas. The saints gave the boatman a ring, which was given to the Duke of Venice, Bartolomeo Gradenigo, for eventual preservation along with other treasures of St Mark.
The second tradition of St Mark's Day, or more precisely the Feast of the Blossoming Rose, tells of romance, love and reconciliation. The story begins with a rose bush growing next to St Mark's tomb. Basilio, one of the merchant sailors who delivered St Mark's remains to Venice, received this rose bush. He planted it on his property and the land was eventually divided in half and inherited by Basilio's two sons. The rose garden in fact fell within the boundaries of the two properties. The brothers eventually became rivals and a family feud ensued. The rose garden, which represented the families' bad blood, withered considerably along with the family relationships, almost to the point of death. Then, on 25 April several years later, love, along with the rose bush, blossomed between two young Venetians. The two young men belonged to each of the two conflicting family branches and had been peeping at each other for some time among the branches of that same rose bush. It seems that on the 25th of April, the young man gave a rose from the rose garden to the girl, showing his love to the families and making peace between them. From the family feud to the love of the two young people, the rose garden has been the backdrop to these vicissitudes.
The other tale surrounding the Festival della Rosa in Fiore in Venice describes a love story between the noblewoman Maria Partecipazio and Tancredi the troubadour. Tancredi was a commoner who fell in love with Maria and was reciprocated. To raise his Venetian social status, Maria Partecipazio being a noblewoman, Tancredi enlisted in the Venetian army with the hope of receiving high honours in battle.
Unfortunately, he was killed during the war against the Arabs in Spain, dying on a bed of thorny roses. On his deathbed, Tancredi begged his comrade, Orlando Paladino, to bring a rosebud from his deathbed and give it to Maria Partecipazio, as a reminder of his eternal love.
On the day before the feast of St Mark's patron saint, 24 April, Orlando arrived in Venice and out of respect for Tancredi's last wish, gave Maria the rose. Venetian history has it that Maria died on 25 April, with the rose placed on her broken heart. Since then, the rose has represented love and romance, not only in Venice, but all over the world.
While St Mark's Day is celebrated all over the world from 23 to 25 April, Venice reserves only one day for the commemoration of the Saint: 25 April. The day begins with a Mass held at St Mark's Basilica. The day continues with celebrations including dances, concerts and even carnivals.
Events in Venice include the Regata di Traghetti, a boat race with gondoliers competing as they carry passengers from the Giardini di Castello on the Grand Canal to the Santa Sofia buoy. The finishing point is near the San Marco pier.
Few Italian tourist attractions are as romantic as St Mark's and its celebration. However, we recommend you stay until 28 April, when a culinary festival begins with typical products prepared by local restaurateurs.
While enjoying the 25th April celebration in Venice, you will see women carrying individual red roses donated by their lovers, husbands, friends, sons or brothers. Fact or legend, these events mean a lot to Venetians and are at the cultural heart of their tradition.