Venice: Winged Lion of St. Mark

You see winged lions all around Venice.  They are the symbol of St. Mark, and so then also became the symbol of the Venetian Republic.


The story of how St. Mark became Venice’s patron is actually a bit of a funny story.

Venice was, for a long time, under the thumb of the Byzantine Empire.  During that time its patron saints were St. Theodore (strongly associated with Byzantium) and St. George (still one of Venice’s patron saints).  In fact, where St. Mark’s Cathedral currently stands used to be the site of a Ducal Cathedral dedicated to St. Theodore.

The story goes that in 828AD two Venetian merchants, Tribunus and Rusticus, stole St. Mark’s remains from Alexandria before they were to be destroyed, aided by two Alexandrian monks.  They put St. Mark’s remains in vessels on their ship covered in pork, discouraging the Muslim guards in Alexandria from inspecting them too closely (hey, I didn’t say it, its what the myth says).  They then brought them back to Venice where St. Mark quickly became the patron saint, discarding St. Theodore in preference of a saint who had more ties to Italy than the Byzantines (St. Mark is said to have written his Gospel of St. Peter in Rome).  It was a declaration of independence of sorts.

The lion can be seen on the Venetian flag and in statues, paintings and engravings all around the city.  The Venetians seem to take a lot of pride in their winged lion.  Next time you go, try and count how many you can find.



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