St. Mark the Evangelist

St. Mark the Evangelist is most famous for authoring the Gospel book that bears his name, but there are actually three to four different accounts of relevant people named "Mark" in the early church. Besides the gospel author, there is also a man referred to as "John Mark" in the book of Acts, and a Mark who is the cousin of Barnabas in the Epistles. Finally, Mark is mentioned alongside Luke in 2 Timothy.

These Marks could be anywhere from all one person to four different people, but the two main traditions either interpret them as one or two individuals. The Catholic church distinguishes between Mark the Evangelist, and John Mark as two separate people.


Lifetime: 5 to 68
Region: Alexandria, Egypt
Patronages: Barristers; Venice; Egypt
Iconograpy: Writing in a scroll or book; Winged lion
Feast Day: April 25

As with many saints of the very early church, not much is known about Mark's life. Instead, I'll focus on how he is depicted in iconography, some of the stories attributed to him, and interesting information about his possible relics.

Iconography

As you'd expect, Mark, as a writer of one of the four Gospel narratives, is often depicted either writing his account in a book or scroll, or carrying the written text.

Perhaps less intuitive, however, is the Lion of Saint Mark. In many icons, a winged lion appears somewhere in the image, often looking on as Mark writes, or even being petted by the writer. In fact, in many statues or illustrations, Mark is represented by the winged lion alone. The connection to the lion begins in Ezekiel (with a reprise in Revelations), where the Winged Creatures appear. Because there are four Winged Creatures and four gospel writers, some believe the Winged Creatures represent the scripture authors, or are paralleled in other ways. Of the four creatures, the lion was chosen for Mark because of his description of John the Baptist as "the voice of one who cries in the wilderness" being compared to a lion's roar.

Stories

There are two odd accounts in Mark's gospel to refer to himself. The first is the man who carries a jug of water and leads the disciples to the Upper Room (also known as the Cenacle) where the Last Supper will take place. The second is a young man who appears in Mark's Gospel during Jesus' arrest, who is seized by Centurions gripping his robe. The young man slips out of his clothing and flees, totally naked. 

Almost 20 years after Jesus ascends back into heaven, Mark is believed to have traveled to Alexandria, Egypt, and founded the church there. He was the first bishop of Alexandria and is considered the founder of various Coptic traditions as well as the church in Africa. He may have been lynched by Alexandrian pagans for his ministry.

Relics

Mark's body was believed to have been kept in the church where he was bishop following his death until 828, when merchants and monks stole them and took them to Venice, ostensibly to protect them from the Muslim government that had taken over the area. According to one mosaic, the pirates his the relics under pork, since any Muslim inspectors, not being allowed to eat pork, would only give it a cursory glance.

However, when the relics arrived in Venice, they were not given to the church, but instead were kept in the local duke's palace. In the duke's defense, he did have a basilica built for the relics in his will upon his death. Unfortunately, when the basilica was finally completed, over 200 years later, the relics couldn't be found! That is, until Mark himself appeared by inhabiting one of the pillars and extending his arm to point to their location (or so the legend goes)!

Some believe that the head of St. Mark the Evangelist was never actually taken from Alexandria, and parts of this are kept in a cathedral in Cairo to this day. The rest is still in Venice, except for small pieces removed over the years.

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