St Mark the patron of Venice
April 25 is the date of the martyrdom and death of St Mark and also the date of the consecration of the Basilica dedicated to him in Venice. The feast day includes a religious celebration at the St Mark’s Basilica with a mass presided by the Patriarch of Venice and a great procession with the partecipation of the major religious and civil authorities of the city.
At the time of the Republic of Venice, this feast was celebrated with great solemnity, and two other dates were commemorated as well: January 31 (the arrival of the relics to Venice) and June 25 (the miraculous finding of the relics).
Image: St Mark's Basilica in Venice, detail, copyright Historia Vivens Web.
The April feast started two days before with an exhibition of treasures on the altar, and the statues of the apostles were coated with precious vestments. On St Mark’s Eve, big wreaths and flowers were hanged at the entrance and flags were raised on the church facade. An evening solemn mass was held as well. The following morning the celebration with the banners started and the Holy Choir performed in the Basilica. Then all the Guardians of Great Schools of Venice arrived to give a tribute to the doge and his wife of two gold-plated candles. The solemn procession continued at the square, and the celebrations were held in many other Venetian churches, as SS. John and Paul's church that had the adjacent Great School of St Mark (or the Hospital), St Stephen's church with the altar in the Calafati's School dedicated to St Mark, the Oratory of the Incurables, the chapel of St Mark in the Frari, and finally also in a chapel on the island of San Francesco della Vigna, that has been built on the place where Mark was supposed to have found refuge during his voyage from Aquileia to Rome.
The feast was also celebrated using several typical spring dishes, like for example peas, which represent also the basic ingredient of the famous venetian recipe “Risi e bisi” ("rice and peas", also called "the Doge’s dish"), a north Italian rice dish between a soup and a "risotto", that is cooked in a broth to a creamy consistency and is very spread in Veneto region, from Verona to Venice.
Finally another legend confirms the connection between Venice and St Mark. During a terrible storm, which hit Venice in February 1340, a knight ordered a boatman resting at the Ponte della Paglia to sail. On the way towards the harbour, the boatman had to stop on the isle of San Giorgio Maggiore and then near St Nicholas' Church at the Lido, to pick up two more knights. When the boatman reached the open sea, he saw the three knights fighting and defeating the demons that were causing the storm and pushing the water towards Venice. Later the boatman realized that the three knights were jus the Saints Mark, George and Nicholas. Mark gave the boatman a ring to be delivered to the doge Bartolomeo Gradenigo (1259/60-1342, the 53rd doge from 1339 until his death) and kept in the Treasury of St Mark, to maintain the special alliance with Venice.