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The Symbolism of the Lion of St. Mark

Hi everyone! This week, I went to Venice and took a day trip to Chianti for wine-tasting. The views of both places, but especially Venice, were stunning. Although I say this in almost every post, I am incredibly grateful to be able to see these kinds of places. While in Venice, I enjoyed seeing beautiful architecture which contain rich symbolism.

For an example of the deep symbols embedded within the Venetian culture, one need to look no further than the Lion of St. Mark. This symbol honors St. Mark because he is the patron saint of Venice.

However, before getting further into what the symbol of the Lion of St. Mark means, it is important to understand why the church has patron saints. The concept of patron saints comes from the original idea of what saints were, that is men and women who were recognized for their holiness and closeness to God. In the early church, especially with the great amount of persecution many Christians faced, many looked to the example of people who had lived the faith well for strength. But the Christians of the early church are not the only ones who faced difficult trials; people throughout history have faced trials and tribulations. Thus, the concept of looking to saints as an example to live a holy life stuck.

At the same time, there may still be confusion around what it means for a saint to be a “patron” of a particular cause, community, geographical area, or struggle. Essentially, as many more saints started being introduced (the church today officially recognizes well over 10,000!), people needed a way to remember which saints related to their specific trials or interests. As a result, today the Church remembers certain saints for specific things that the saint did or experienced and in some cases, based on their interests. For instance, St. Augustine is the patron saint of sex addiction because he had many problems with lust. In this way, all members of the body of Christ (AKA, the mystical sense of the word “Church”) contribute to the whole and continue to be examples for us today. As St. Paul explains, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1, New King James Version).

Assuming the concept of “patron saints” is more clear, I will now circle back to the topic of the Lion of St. Mark and how it relates to the spiritual nature of the Venetian people. To understand the symbolism of the lion, one must first understand the tradition. Essentially, tradition says St. Mark, while traveling to Alexandria in Egypt, found rest at a fisherman’s house in Venice. Interestingly, a winged lion in the form of an angel appeared to St. Mark in a dream and predicted that he would be remembered in Venice. Centuries later, in 828 A.D., the Venetians felt it was their obligation to fulfill this prophecy; as a result, the relics of St. Mark were taken back from Alexandria to Venice. In fact, I actually got to visit the Basilica where these relics are (St. Mark’s Basilica).

Knowing about the story of St. Mark and his connection to Venice, much of the symbolism of the lion becomes clearer. Moreover, it is also interesting how St. Mark’s own gospel actually testifies to a “lion-like” character. Like lions, who are brave/strong/regal/noble, the gospel of St. Mark brings out these characteristics in Christ. For instance, the Catholic site Newadvent.org, explains how “almost a fourth” of Mark’s gospel is devoted to showing the power of Christ over everything. The gospel writer gives this effect by limiting much of the dialogue which is present in the other gospels. Instead, it focuses on (and almost tries to impress the reader with) the miraculous nature of Christ’s ministry. Like the lion holds dominion over nature, Christ holds ultimate sovereignty over everything.

Okay, that is it for this week! I hope you enjoyed my blog and will come back for another article next week! Thank you for your time.

Source: “Gospel of Saint Mark.” CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Gospel of Mark, https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09674b.htm

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