BASILICA DI SAN MARCO
(Saint Mark's Basilica)



    Before I go into detail on my impressions of the Basilica of St. Mark, I'll tell you a little about the history behind it.

Basilica History

    The Basilica was originally built to house the relics of St. Mark, whose body was stolen from Alexandria by crafty Venetian merchants in 828. From then on, St. Mark would replace St. Theodore as patron saint of Venice and St. Mark's symbol of the lion would become the city's emblem. The present Basilica was built in 1063 and was consecrated 30 years later.
    The Venetians chose to build the Basilica after cathedrals designed under Byzantine emperor Justinian I. The main building forms an equal-armed Greek cross. The large dome in the center is about 13 m (42 ft) in diameter and typical of the Byzantine cathedral domes in Constantinople. On each arm of the Greek cross layout of the cathedral are slightly smaller domes.
    Although the Basilica and it's domes are architectural wonders, it is the mosaics that catch the eye of any visitor. The dome mosaics date back to the 13th century. They narrate the preaching of the Apostles and Christ's benedictory with the Saints. The Presbytery dome is graced with mosaics that depict Christ and the Prophets and was completed at the end of the 12th century. Surrounding the domes, is a ceiling decorated with additional mosaics on a gold bottom, which date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. All mosaic work was begun by Byzantine craftsmen and continued by Italian artists until the 16th century.
The space inside the Basilica is divided in three aisles and decorated with columns adorned with Byzantine capitals.
    The fašade of San Marco was developed in horizontal sense on two floors with five arcades. All five arcades tell the events of the capturing of St. Mark's remains in 828. The first arcade is the only one to have its original mosaic (1260-1270) intact. It represents the Transition of St. Mark into the Basilica. The second arcade represents the Body of St. Mark, a mosaic by Sebastiano Ricci, created in the 18th century. The third arcade is situated in the center of the Basilica's fašade. It is decorated with bas-reliefs from the 3rd century and narrates the episodes of the Virtues and the Prophets. The fourth and fifth arcades have mosaics that depict the stealing of his remains from Alexandria and their welcoming by the Venetians. On the terrace stands copies of the four gilded bronze horses that Venetians captured from Constantinople in the 4th Crusade of 1204.
    The Basilica of St. Mark also possesses one of Europe's richest collection of treasures and stolen art. One such masterpiece is the Pala d'Oro (Altar of Gold), begun in 976 with repairs through 1345. In the center of the altar's Architrave is a bronze and silver cross with the Madonna. St. John and the 12 Apostles stand on either side. This was the creation of Jacobello and Pier Paolo Palle Masegne (1396). Within the altar is the urn with the mortal remains of St. Mark. The altar's Ciborium with canopy is supported by four alabaster columns carved with Apocryphal episodes and canonical Gospel scenes. This dates between the 5th and 12th centuries.
Behind the altar is the famed gold Shovel (1.40 x 3.48 m), a masterpiece of Byzantine and Venetian jewelry, begun in the 10th century and finished in 1342. In the Shovel are set 1,300 pearls, 400 garnets, 300 sapphires, 300 emeralds, 90 amethysts, 75 balas, 15 rubies, 4 topazes, 2 cameos, and 80 enamels.
    Most of the stolen booty within the Basilica are Byzantine treasures taken from Constantinople during the Venetian-lead 4th Crusade. These priceless articles include: the Votive Crown of Emperor Leo VI (10th century), the two Icons of the Archangel Michael (11th century), and the glass "Secchio Diatrete" with hunting scenes (6th-7th centuries).

My Impressions

    When we first arrived in Venice with the students from the ITC Roselli, I was tired from the long bus ride from Lonigo. Luckily I sat with Abigail who kept me from boredom. The first thing I noticed as we crossed our first canal bridge was "this water smells like s**t!" You could smell a canal from three or four blocks away, and yet birds still swam gracefully atop the mucky waters. Other than the sewage filled water, I was in awe over the beauty of the many old buildings which were mostly of Renaissance and Byzantine influence. I couldn't believe I was actually in THE Venice, Italy.
    We reached the Piazza San Marco late in the day and I was surrounded literally with pigeons. (Pigeons just waiting to "number two" on me). Around the perimeters of the Piazza were merchants (black market dealers) from West Africa trying to sell their knock-off cheap goods. Of course I saw the dumb American tourists buy their junk. After being told where to meet after touring the Basilica, we were on our way inside San Marco. The building was massive, dwarfed by the even taller Clock Tower to the right of it.
    I walked through the massive wooden doors into the Narthex, or entrance hall and was amazed at how much marble and gold covered everything inside. I got goosebumps from the cool breeze that hit me as I entered. The marble on the floors was sunken in, a sign of its great age and the number of people that have been inside it.
From the entrance hall, I arrived in the main cathedral section with the central dome. From atop the ceiling were many mosaics of saints, Christ, and of course the Virgin Mary. Statuettes and icons adorned Byzantine columns along the sides of the walkway to the altar where St. Mark's urn rested. Looking up under the massive center dome, you could see the light trickle in through the windows that encircled it. I remember there was a mosaic of an Apostle or some various dude over each window. The whole ceiling seemed gold.
    After viewing what we could of the altar and other four domes surrounding the center one, we decided to spend the rest of our time eating before we had to meet back at the Clock Tower so we exited to the entrance hall where we all bought rosaries and our olive wood cross necklaces. The crosses became the symbol for our group (Ashley, Brandy, Billie, Aaron, Mark, Jeremiah, and I)... which we would put together and say "Holy Group Unite!" From that moment on in the piazza, we called ourselves the Holy Group.
    Our day ended in Venice with a taxi boat ride down the Grand Canal which winded through the center of the island. You could occasionally feel the boat grind and scratch the canal's bottom. We reached the bridge over the lagoon and were soon on the shuttle bus back to Lonigo where we'd party that night.

 

Justin Wilcox