In the year 828 a couple of merchants of Venice happened to be in Alexandria, Egypt, which, at that time was under control of the Muslim Saracens. It just so happened that the Apostle Mark had established a Christian Church in Alexandria years before and when the merchants visited that church they came across some monks who were very concerned that Mark’s church might well be attacked and plundered. Their principle concern was that Mark himself was buried there and the monks had no interest in seeing his bones paraded down the street. So, the merchants and the monks hit upon a plan to get Mark out of town. They exhumed him, stuffed another lesser saint into his sarcophagus and, loaded him on the next ship bound for Venice. To make sure he was not discovered they hid his remains under a load of pork and cabbages, which the Muslims would not go near. Sure enough, they quickly passed inspection and off to Venice they went. Numerous miracles are said to have occurred on this voyage, which brought everyone back home safely.
At that time Venice was ruled by “Doges” (DOUGH-jis), or, “Dukes”. When the Doge heard that Saint Mark was in town he immediately ordered the construction of a cathedral right next to his palace. Well, it was a beautiful cathedral no doubt, but unfortunately it burned to the ground some years later and it was assumed that Mark’s remains went up with it.
However, as a new, larger cathedral was being constructed an apparition appeared one night and pointed to one of the pillars left from the old church. Sure enough, upon inspection, it was discovered that Mark himself had been tucked inside the pillar! So, as the new cathedral was completed a much more suitable and secure final resting place was created. Where is it? Nobody is saying. All we know is, he’s somewhere in here:
The basilica is now part of the complex known as the Piazza San Marco which is the crown jewel of Venice. If you stand at the west end of the Piazza the basilica is at the east end:
Along the north sides, to your left and right, are the offices of the Procuratie Vecchie, the people who administer the affairs of the Basilica. The tower is the Campanile di San Marco, or, bell tower.
Here is a better view of the Procuratie Vecchie:
If you stand at the cathedral end and look west you will see this:
At the far end is the Correr Museum, which we will visit later.
If you are at the cathedral looking south, toward the canals, this is the view:
To the left is the Doges Palace, still connected to the basilica. There are two columns also, the one on the left being a winged lion, the symbol of Mark and of the city itself.
So, let’s take a look at Saint Mark’s Basilica. First the outside. The columns at each entrance are of different colored marble. Above are mosaics depicting scenes from Mark’s life and of his rescue from the Muslims:
Such a huge cathedral and yet the attention to detail is incomprehensible:
What incredible art! But wait! Let’s take a look inside:
Yes, people. That is gold! It is gold leaf embedded in the glass chips!
I could show you every picture in our collection or you could find more on the internet but nothing takes the place of just being there. We have been in many great cathedrals, but this is an absolute mind blower! And yet, there’s more!
Inside the basilica is a museum which mostly features mosaics and other art that was salvaged from the earlier church or otherwise removed for display, like this one:
But, by far, the stars of the show are the Horses of Saint Mark:
These horses date back to the first or second century and were probably part of some Roman garden. Apparently they were gifted to the Byzantines and for many years were displayed at the Hippodrome of Constantinople. Well, in 1204, they became part of the loot plundered from that city during the Fourth Crusade. They were brought back to Venice and displayed above the entrance to the basilica where they remained until Napoleon captured Venice in 1797. He removed them by force and had them placed on top of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris.
Following the Battle of Waterloo, however, the Emperor of Austria gave the horses back to the Venetians who, once again placed them on basilica. In 1980, people began to notice that pollution was taking its toll on them. They were taken down, restored, and moved inside to protect them. Are they happy?
Here are the copies:
Next, we’ll head up the Campanile and take a look around.