This Week in Venice. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. Week of April 23

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1 This Week in Venice By Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. Week of April 23 If you were to vacation in Italy, and Venice in particular during this coming week, the city would greet you with its annual public holiday on the 25 th, the feast of St. Mark. Though the Catholic Church celebrates this liturgical feast, the city lavishly honors its patron saint with La Festa di San Marco. Businesses and public offices are closed. St. Mark the Evangelist St Mark (or John Mark), mentioned in Acts 12:12, 25, traveled with St. Paul and interpreted St. Peter. He collected many of Peter s reflections and sayings in what has come to be named the Gospel of St. Mark, the first of the four, written ca. 70 AD. The other evangelists are Matthew, Luke, and John gospel writers all. Mood of the Gospel The Suffering Servant, the Messiah-King, is the theme that runs through the entire gospel, and from the outset, the atmosphere of danger and persecution is palpable. The occasion for Mark s writing this gospel may have been the death of Peter (AD 64) during Nero s reign (AD 54-68) and the suffering that would usher in the persecutions of Christians in the Early Church. In Christian iconography, Mark is depicted with a winged lion beside him: And the first living creature was like a lion.... (Revelations 4:7). In Mark s gospel, the Messiah-King was the personification of courage. His disciples must also live courageously, even in martyrdom; thus, the figure of a lion.

2 Detail of the gable showing Venice's patron apostle St. Mark with angels. Underneath is a winged lion, the symbol of the saint and of Venice. Medieval manuscript of St. Mark s Gospel with winged lion sitting at the saint s feet.

3 Marvel of Venice Almost no surviving records deal with the founding of Venice. Still the date of March 25 th, 421 is noted for the dedication of San Giacomo (James) Church on the isle of Rialto. It was the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord. Venice is a marvel of construction, a city of 118 islands built on the Adriatic Sea. The buildings sit on a foundation constructed of spaced wooden piles submerged in the water. These piles are made from trunks of alder trees whose wood is noted for its resistance to water. The piles penetrate a softer layer of sand and mud until they reach the lowest level, a much harder layer of compressed clay. Limestone, placed over and above these wooden piles, serves as a buffer between the buildings and the support system. This singular feat of construction has earned Venice several titles: Queen of the Adriatic, City of Water, City of Bridges, The Floating City, and City of Canals. And what of the construction workers? Façade of St. Mark s Basilica, of Italo-Byzantine style and Square with tourists awaiting entrance

4 View of St. Mark s on the Grand Canal Aerial view of St. Mark s basilica

5 Activities on the Feast of St. Mark After the celebration of a festive Liturgy in the basilica on April 25 th, a highlight of the day is the Regata di Traghetti, a boat race featuring gondoliers who compete while transporting passengers in their gondolas car racing, Venetian style. A picture of the boat race on the Grand Canal, is shown below. There are also concerts and carnivals to enjoy, as well as open air markets. Interior of Saint Mark s The basilica is shaped in the tradition form of a cross. The upper levels of the interior are completely covered with bright mosaics, an art form made from assembling small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials; they are also used in decorative art or interior decoration. Thee small, flat, roughly square pieces of stone or glass of different colors are known as tesserae. Some, especially floor mosaics, are made of small rounded pieces of stone, and called pebble mosaics. The overall impression of the interior with a dazzling display of mosaics on all ceilings and upper walls has remained unchanged through the centuries.

6 Mosaic ceiling. Jesus the Pantocrator, 15 th c Overview of mosaics, looking east

7 Inlay mosaic pavement of interior Inlay mosaic pavement of interior

8 Quadrophonic Music in the Sixteenth Century Today we take quadrophonic sound for granted which gives the sense of being surrounded by the musical sound. In sixteenth-century Venice, this came to be known as the polychoral style, a type of music which involved spatially separate choirs singing or playing in alternation. It was also known as cori spezzati literally, separated choirs. The style arose from the architectural peculiarities of St. Mark s which had several choir lofts. It was difficult to get widely separated choirs to sing or play the same music simultaneously. Composers such as Adrian Willaert, the maestro di cappella of St. Mark's in the 1540s, solved the problem by writing antiphonal music where opposite choirs would sing successive and often contrasting phrases of the music; the stereo effect proved to be popular, and soon other composers were imitating this musical technique in other large cathedrals in Italy. This was a rare but interesting case of the architectural characteristic of a single building influencing the development of a style which spread all over Europe, but was a defining feature of the early Baroque era. The peak of development of the style came in the late 1580s and 1590s, while Giovanni Gabrieli was San Marco s principal composer. He was the first to specify large choirs of brass to develop the echo effects for which he became famous. The fame of the spectacular musical effects of San Marco spread across Europe, and numerous musicians came to Venice to hear, study, absorb and bring back to their native countries what they learned in Venice.

9 Depiction of Saint Mark s in the Sixteenth Century Procession around the Square of San Marco. Painting by Gentile Bellini (1496) Details of Bellini painting executed between 1496 and 1501 The canvas shows an event that took place about fifty years earlier, on 25 April 1444, the feast of St. Mark. While the members of the choir were processing through the Piazza, Jacopo de' Salis, a tradesman from Brescia, knelt in prayer before the relic of St. Mark that his dying son might recover. His prayer was answered; the boy was cured.

10 In the foreground, Gentile Bellini has painted the confraternity in its white robes, processing at the head of the parade, the large golden reliquary suspended between them, carried beneath a canopy held by four additional choir members. In reality, the painting should be more accurately described as the procession around St. Mark s square and on St. Mark s Basilica itself with its Byzantine domes and glittering mosaics. The miracle is hardly visible in the crowd: immediately to the right of the last two canopy-bearers, he kneels in sumptuous red robes. The present basilica dates from approximately 1063 another marvel of construction. The consecration was in fact a series of consecrations for different parts of the basilica. Below, a spectacular view of the Grand Canal Aerial view of Venice s Grand Canal

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