Pictured as a winged lion in Christian iconography, St. Mark has been represented with this image since the 5th century, if not before. The earliest known image of St. Mark in this form is in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, dating from 450 in Ravenna, Italy.
We know little of St. Mark from the scriptures, but can learn more from legend and tradition. His gospel message comes as a “roar of a lion” – calling us to conversion. The Gospel of Mark also refers to Jesus as the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah”, and the wings in the image represent Christ as the son of God.
St. Mark was close to St. Peter, and is often referred to as his ‘spiritual son’. Legend tells us that Peter dictated the gospel to Mark that bears his name, and then sent him to bring the message of Christ to Egypt. Mark first shared the gospel with a shoemaker, who repaired his shoe that had broken on the journey. While repairing the shoe, the man wounded his hand, but St. Mark healed it! The shoemaker’s entire family was converted and baptized and this story can be seen in the art program in the cathedral of St. Mark in Venice.
Some of the most dramatic stories about St. Mark have to do with the journey of his body from Egypt to Venice after his death. Tradition tells us that St. Mark’s body was stolen from Alexandria as a way to protect his relics during a time of persecution. As the body was on its journey to Venice, it was taken out of its sarcophagus, placed in a chest and then covered by a layer of pork and cabbage. When Muslims inspected the chest, they were horrified at the smell of pork, and ceased any further inspection. Other miracles and dramatic stories surrounded the journey of the body to Venice, where it now resides in the crypt of the Basilica.
One of the most famous scriptures from the gospel of Mark reflects the life of the saint, and can inspire us to share the message of Christ wherever we are.
“Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.” — Mark 16:15