San Marco Basilica

Published date: 09/07/2024
  • Location: Basilica, Venice., San Marco, Basilicate, Italy
Legend has it that in the early 9th century, two merchants, named Buono (“Good Man”) of Malamocco and Rustico (“Rustic”) of Torcello, stole the body of St. Mark from Alexandria in Egypt and carried it back to Venice. Rather than presenting their saintly burden to the head of the Venetian church, they gave the body to the head of the Venetian government, the doge, thereby connecting St. Mark forever to the state. The doge ordered the construction of a church to house the saintly remains, which were placed in a temporary shrine within the Doges’ Palace. A church was completed in 832 but was destroyed by fire in a rebellion in 976. It was later rebuilt, forming the basis of the present basilica, which was begun in 1063.

The new church became the official chapel of the doge and, by the 15th century, was joined to the Doges’ Palace. The church is immediately recognizable, with its main and subsidiary domes echoing the well-known form of earlier Byzantine churches and showing influences from Constantine’s Church of the Apostles in Constantinople. A mosaic over the far left portal of the basilica, depicting the interment of St. Mark’s body, gives an astonishingly accurate portrayal of what the church looked like in the 13th century, before the 15th-century addition of elaborate white Gothic cresting. Unlike the cathedrals of Florence and Milan, which at the end of the 13th century still stood open to the sky, St. Mark’s had been structurally complete for many years. Because of this, generations of artists and rulers had already worked a wealth of detail and narrative into the fabric of the church. Designated a cathedral in 1807, St. Mark’s Basilica stands at the head of one of the most famous European squares, presiding over this public and communal space and giving it a sense of religious and civic history rich in legend and glamour. (Robin Elam Musumeci)

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