The Festival of the Blooming Rose
The rose is not only a symbol related to St Mark but also the key feature of the historic Venetian "Festa di San Marco", which is celebrated every year on April 25 in honour of the patron saint of Venice.
The feast day is also known as "Festa del Bocolo" or the "Feast of the Rosebud", as on this day the Venetian men traditionally use to give a single rosebud, bocolo, to the women they love, usually their beloved, but also daughters and mothers.
This tradition, which is widely spread and observed still today, recalls the association of the red roses with St Mark, finding its roots in two ancient legends, both telling us about a great and romantic love story from the Middle Ages, although one of them with a happy end, while the other ending tragically...
According to a first legend the tradition originated in the 8th century and is related to the story of the troubled love between the noblewoman Maria, daughter of the doge Orso I Partecipazio (or Orso I Badoer; ?-881, the 14th Doge of Venice from 864 to his death), and Tancredi, a poor poet and musician. In order to win her father’s approval, Maria offered Tancredi to follow Charlemagne's campaign against the Muslims in Spain to acquire glory and prestige, so to overcome the social classes difference. Tancredi accepted the idea and joined the war in Spain, fighting as a brave and valiant soldier in the ranks of the Paladins of France, the foremost warriors of King Charlemagne's court. Unfortunately during a battle just at the end of the military campaign, Tancredi was mortally wounded and fell over a rosebush that became red of his blood. Before taking his last breath, Tancredi managed to pluck a rosebud stained with his blood, and asked his friend Roland the Paladine to bring it as the last gift to his loved one in Venice. Roland kept the promise: he managed to reach Venice just the day before the feast of St Mark and gave the bloom to Maria, as the very last love message from her beloved Tancredi. The following morning the young woman was found dead with the red bloom on her heart. Since then and over centuries the Venetian lovers have been using this flower as an emblematic love pledge, and every man in Venice has presented a rose to his beloved one on Saint Mark’s day.
Another legend suggests that the tradition of the bocolo came from the rose bed growing aside the grave of the Evangelist. The plant is believed to have been given to Basilio, a sailor from the Giudecca Island, as a prize for his cooperation while bringing the body of St Mark to Venice from Egypt. The rose was planted in Basilio's garden, but after his death it became the borderline of the property divided in two parts by his sons. The two branches of the family became rival and after mutual violence the plant stopped flowering. On April 25, many years after, a first-sight love arose between a girl from one branch of Basilio's family and a young man from the other. They fell in love watching each other through the rose bed separating the properties. The rose garden marked this love with a marvellous red flowering. The young man got one of the blooms and gave it to the girl. To commemorate this happy end love, that finally reunified the two families and brought peace, the Venetians got used to give a rosebud to their loved ones.
In 2014, on the occasion of St Mark’s feast day, for the first time in history, the “bocolo” came to life in Piazza San Marco by the effort of over 1000 Venetians who created a majestic “human rosebud” with their bodies: the adults formed the petals of the rosebud, while the green of the stem was reserved to the youngest participants, who represent the future. A rose was also painted on the face of every contributor, for a record-breaking face-painting session. The volunteers participated in the event as a new and contemporary expression of the city’s oldest traditions, sending an important message: Venice is neither a museum nor an amusement park, but a living city!
A Rose for Venice time-lapse, April 25, 2014