St Mark’s Basilica

St. Mark’s Cathedral is the main cathedral of Venice, a classic of Byzantine church architecture, striking with the luxury of design and the uniqueness of architecture.

Saint Mark – patron saint of Venice

The inhabitants of Venice consider the Evangelist Mark, one of the seventy disciples of the Lord, as their patron. Legend tells that Saint Mark returned from Aquileia, a city in Northern Italy, where he preached Christianity. Caught up in a storm, the apostle stopped at one of the Venetian islands.

An angel who appeared in a dream announced to Mark that he would find peace here. “Peace be with you, Mark, my evangelist!” – these words, spoken by an angel, were later inscribed on the banner of the Venetian Republic.

Saint Mark founded a church in Egypt, where he became the first bishop of Alexandria. There the Apostle Mark received a martyr’s death from the pagans. They put a rope around the apostle’s neck and dragged him down the street until he died. The Evangelist was buried in Alexandria, the capital of Egypt.

On January 31, 829, two Venetian merchants, fearing the desecration of the shrine by the Muslims, secretly confiscated the relics of St. Mark and transported them to Venice. Since then, Mark has become the patron saint of the Venetian Republic, and his biblical image – a winged lion – is the main state symbol.

Cathedral construction

To store the precious relic, a chapel was built in 829, which was opened in 832. A fire in 976 destroyed the chapel along with the relics of St. Mark, which were surprisingly discovered in 1904 during the construction of a new cathedral.

A new building in the Byzantine style was built in 1071 after the model of the Temple of the Apostles in Constantinople . The eclectic building was decorated for 800 years: the exaltation of the temple was considered the sacred duty of every citizen of the republic.

The funds of the doji (the head of the Venetian Republic) and the rich, aspiring to power, generously donated to the cathedral. The Venetian merchants, going on trips, were obliged to bring something for the cathedral. It is not surprising that the interior and exterior of the temple and the number of treasures and relics collected in it exceed all expectations.

During the IV Crusade, when the crusaders captured and plundered Constantinople, most of the city’s wealth ended up in the Cathedral of St. Mark. Venice ascended to the height of power, and the cathedral shone in a splendor of unprecedented splendor.

The army of Christ defeated and plundered the Christian city, but after 600 years Napoleon ended the republic, took jewelry and works of art to Paris, including from St. Mark’s Cathedral.

Until 1807, ordinary people were not allowed into the cathedral: the church of St. Mark was considered the court chapel of the doge , where court services were performed and ordained to the position of doges, as well as the most important state ceremonies.

In 1807, the bishop’s chair was moved to the temple, and since then the Cathedral of St. Mark is the main cult place of the Venetian Republic, the residence of the patriarch and the cultural heritage of UNESCO. The cathedral periodically warms up, so restoration work is carried out from time to time.

Architectural features

The architectural structure is based on a Greek cross. Cathedral of St. Mark – cross-domed: topped with five domes on high drums. The central dome is the most majestic. Temple of 4000 sq.m. rushes up to 43 meters.

The majesty of the temple

The cathedral, built of bricks, faced with marble and decorated with decorative furnishings: mosaics, sculptures, carved columns. The temple is crowned with a Gothic cornice with magnificent stone carvings.

From the north and west, the cathedral is surrounded by a gallery, from the south there is a chapel and a baptistery. There are five entrances to the cathedral, decorated with monumental carved portals with scenes of hunting, fishing and gospel themes.

On the main façade there is a luxurious finish: marble columns and ornate capitals – trophies of the fourth crusade.

Interesting! A thousand years ago, Venetian trophies adorned the palaces and churches of Constantinople.

The top of the building is decorated with thin turrets. In the center above the entrance is a statue of St. Mark, surrounded by figures of angels. Beneath it, the figure of a winged lion shines with a golden sheen.

Above the arches of the main facade is a mosaic depicting scenes :

  • Venetians drive Muslims away from the ship with the relics of St. Mark;
  • Arrival of the relics of the saint in Venice;
  • The appearance of Christ as Judge;
  • The Venetian meets the relics of St. Mark;
  • Transfer of the relics of St. Mark to the cathedral.

The south side of the cathedral is decorated with ancient relics – a sculptural group, carved in the IV century from dark red porphyry “Four Tetrarchs”, taken from Egypt.

Interesting! The sculpture commemorates the unsuccessful attempt by four Saracens to rob the cathedral’s treasury.

An old Venetian proverb is carved at the bottom of the sculpture: “A person can do whatever he wants, but must not forget about the consequences.”

Next to them is the Pietra del Bando pedestal (the name of a medieval column), where the heads of executed criminals were once exhibited here for three days.

On the north side of the building there is the Gate of Flowers , named after the ornate floral ornament. Nearby, on the square, on small pedestals – Constantinople trophies, a pair of porphyry lions.

By the wall, decorated with carved marble, there is a magnificent stone tomb with the name of Daniele Manin, the national hero of Venice. A lawyer by training, he led an uprising against the Austrians in 1848. The republic he created lasted two and a half years.

From the side of the bay, on the facade of the building, there is a sculpture of St. Christopher. The sailors who set sail cast their last glance at the cathedral from the side of the bay. It was believed that the one who looked at the saint would not meet trouble on this day.

Quadriga of Saint Mark

Above the main entrance to the temple rises a bronze quadriga – four horses galloping at a gallop. A multi-figure equestrian sculpture of ancient times, made in the 4th century AD, adorned the hippodrome in Constantinople.

Unbridled horses do not harmonize with the exquisite style of the temple, but in the 13th century, the quadriga taken from Constantinople ended up on the loggia of St. Mark’s Cathedral. In 1797, Napoleon conquered the republic and sent the monument to Paris. For 15 years, antique horses stood on the arch near the Louvre, but in 1815 they were returned to Venice.

Bell tower

Near the cathedral – Campanile , a cathedral bell tower in the form of a square tower, which is topped by a belfry crowned with a spire with a copper figure of the Archangel Michael. The inhabitants of Venice call the 99-meter bell tower the mistress of the house: after all, she has visited the watchtower, and the lighthouse, and the observatory, and the belfry, and the observation deck.

In the fall of 1902, the bell tower suddenly collapsed, but the city authorities restored Campanella to its original form.

The interior of the cathedral

The interior of the cathedral is striking in its grandeur. The main decoration of the interior is a Murano glass mosaic created over several centuries based on sketches by Venetian artists: Titian, Tintoretto.

Mosaics depicting biblical subjects and scenes from the lives of saints shimmer with gold. The luxurious mosaics on a golden background cover 8000 sq.m. vaults, walls and domes of the temple.

The floor of the temple is made of multi-colored marble slabs, folded in geometric and floral patterns.

Church porch

The entrance to the cathedral is preceded by the church vestibule, which is decorated with mosaic paintings with scenes from the Old Testament. The dome with stories about the creation of the world is decorated with a mosaic with golden scales. On the arches of the doors there is a cycle of mosaics with the biography of the forefathers and the events of the Flood.

On the sails of the domes there are figures of prophets with scrolls prophesying about the appearance of the Savior. On the dome of Moses there are eight stories about the deeds of the prophet.

Cathedral interior

In the northern nave of the cathedral, to the left of the main altar, there is the icon “Madonna Nicopeia” (Victorious), which was created by the Apostle Luke. The icon, transferred in 1234 from Constantinople to Venice, is framed with a rich gold setting, decorated with enamels and precious stones.

Interesting! The Byzantine emperors revered her as their guardian, the warriors before the battle asked for intercession.

The walls and vaults of the cathedral are decorated with mosaics about the blessings of Jesus and pictures of torment from the Crucifixion to the Resurrection of the Savior.

A massive bronze crucifix decorated with silver rises above the altar wall, made of multi-colored marbles. The altar wall is decorated with columns and sculptures. The main altar contains the relics of St. Mark.

Golden altar

Here, above the altar, is kept the main jewel of Venice – the Golden Altar, brought from Constantinople. Created 500 years ago, the Golden Altar is 2.5 meters high and 3.5 meters long and contains 80 icons in a gold frame decorated with precious stones.

In the center of the altar is the majestic figure of Christ. The altar doors are decorated with medallions with enamel depictions of emperors and saints shining with gold and precious stones. On the sides of the altar there are images of the life of St. Mark.

The golden altar outwardly resembles a huge golden cube with many small images of saints inlaid in it. The shrine is decorated with 1,300 pearls, 300 emeralds, 300 sapphires, 90 amethysts, 50 rubies, 4 topaz and 2 cameos. Until the middle of the 20th century, the jewel was exhibited only for ceremonial services.

Interesting! The luxurious look saved the golden image from marauders. The French, who dragged everything from Venice, did not even think that the huge altar was decorated with gold and precious stones.

Treasury

The treasury room consists of two small rooms where Christian relics donated by the popes and 300 items obtained by the Venetians during the defeat of Constantinople at the beginning of the 13th century are kept.

The collected exhibits are numerous caskets with the relics of saints:

  • a fragment of the skull of John the Baptist;
  • finger of Mary Magdalene;
  • a sample of St. Mark’s handwriting;
  • milk of the Virgin;
  • the thorn from the crown of thorns of Jesus;
  • knife that was used during the Last Supper.

Iconic frames and religious paraphernalia, richly decorated cups, glassware are also kept here.