HISTORY OF ST. MARK
Mark the Evangelist is the author of the earliest written Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, which appeared about 30 years after the crucifixion of Jesus in the late AD ’60s.
His feast day is April 25 for Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. He is significant historically both as the writer of the earliest Gospel and as the patron saint of Venice.
The name Mark also appears elsewhere in the New Testament. One is John Mark, mentioned in The Book of Acts chapters 12, 13, and 15. The Pauline epistles of Colossians and Philemon mention Mark as the cousin of the evangelist Barnabus, who was an early traveling companion of St. Paul. The early Christian theologian Hippolytus of Rome of the early 3rd century believed that these are three different Marks.
But your friendly neighborhood historian humbly disagrees, as the only existing copy of this treatise on this topic appeared in Greece less than 200 years ago and is considered by most scholars to be pseudepigraphical. I believe all three Marks were the same man: the writer of the Gospel, John Mark, and the cousin of Barnabus.
Mark was not one of the original 12 Apostles but has been regarded as one of the 70 Disciples whom Jesus sent out to spread the good news of the Kingdom, as mentioned in Luke 10. So while not in Jesus’ inner circle, he was in the next circle larger. Some believe he is the unnamed young man who followed Jesus after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, mentioned only in the Gospel of Mark:
And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.
Other traditions record that the Last Supper was held in the house of Mark’s mother, as was Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to the Apostles where he ate fish (Luke 24:42) and later when St. Peter escaped from prison in Acts 12:12.
John Mark accompanied Barnabus and Paul on a missionary journey starting in Cyprus and throughout Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Following the Council of Jerusalem, he accompanied Barnabus to Cyprus but without Paul. Around AD 42, Mark met Peter and accompanied him as his translator. Mark recorded Peter’s sermons and personal accounts of Jesus during that time, which became the first Gospel book.
From extra-biblical traditions, we learn that around AD 49, Mark traveled to Alexandria and founded the church in Egypt. Several groups trace their origins to that church, including the Greek Orthodox Church in Alexandria and both the Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Catholic Churches. Though the Ethiopian Eunuch might be credited with first bringing the message of Jesus to Ethiopia following his encounter with Philip, according to Acts 8, Mark became the first bishop of Alexandria and is considered the disciple who brought the Gospel to Africa. Mark was martyred in AD 68 according to Coptic tradition.
Why St Mark is the Patron Saint of Venice
Mark’s body remained in Alexandria until AD 828, when it was believed that relics of his body were stolen by two Venetian merchants — aided by two Greek monks — and removed to Venice.
Today, in a mosaic in San Marco’s (St Mark’s) Basilica in Venice, a visitor can see sailors delivering the body hidden beneath pork and cabbage leaves to escape detailed inspection by Muslim guards in Alexandria, who would not have touched the “unclean” meat.
The Doge (Duke) of Venice secretly kept Mark’s relics. In AD 1063, a new basilica was being built in Venice, now known as the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of St Mark (San Marco’s); the saint’s remains were removed from the Doge’s Palace and placed in the basilica in a sarcophagus.
San Marco’s is the most popular destination in Venice, surrounded by Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square), with the Campanile (bell tower) across the square from the basilica. This bell tower was the model for Sather Tower at the University of California, Berkeley.
The Symbol of St Mark
His symbol is the winged lion, found atop a column at the port side entrance to Piazza San Marco. This is also where the cruise ships drop off their tourists for the day.
In Venice, Italy, St. Mark’s Day is a public holiday marked by church services, concerts, carnivals, and street markets.
How do you celebrate St. Mark’s Day?
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian