The feast of St Mark, La Festa di San Marco, is a major date on the Venetian calendar. Coinciding with Liberation Day, it honours the city’s patron saint and is a local public holiday. A highlight is the Regata di Traghetti, a boat race featuring gondoliers who compete while transporting passengers in their gondolas. Celebrations take place in the Basilica di San Marco, in front of religious and civil authorities of the city.
The winged lion of St Mark is found everywhere in Venice, explains Erla Zwingle on I Am Not Making This Up -- carved onto walls, above doorways, standing atop pillars and stitched in gold on the glorious Venetian flag. The relationship between the city and the saint as endured since 828, when the Evangelist’s body was brought to Venice from Alexandria. “Two intrepid sailors, known as ‘Buono’ of Malamocco and ‘Rustico’ from Torcello spirited the body of the city’s erstwhile bishop out of the Muslim metropolis by hiding it on a wagon covered in pig carcasses.” On their arrival back in Venice, the Doge “ordered that a magnificent church be built next to his palace to house the Saint’s relics,” continues A Blog About Venice, “the gold mosaic, known as the Deposition Mosaic over the left door of the Basilica shows Saint Mark’s body being brought to the church. It is the oldest mosaic on the outside of the Basilica dating back to 1260.” He became therefore the patron saint of the city and the Republic of Venice “assumed the winged lion, called lion of San Marco, as its symbol,” explains Laura Teso in My Corner of Italy.
The second tradition of the day is the gift of a red rosebud (bocolo) from men to women that he loves (either a wife, sister, mother or even cousin). The tradition possibly originates with the legend of rose bush, which sprang up on the first site of St Mark’s grave, but is more often associated with the story of the doomed lovers Maria and Tancredi. In 2014, writer Alberto Toso Fei and choreographer Elena Tagliapietra gathered 1000 Venetians in St Mark’s square to form a giant rosebud in an installation called Una Rosa per Venezia. Many businesses are closed for the day but most museums and places of interest to the tourist are usually open.
Sign up for Guidebook's weekly collection of fresh stories and useful news about Venice for travelers. It’s free.