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  • Writer's pictureMarie Ohanesian Nardin

Liberation, a lion, a Saint, ham hocks and a rosebud…

Today, April 25th, is a special day throughout Italy and particularly in Veneto, so I'd like to share a post I wrote some years ago on my former blog Italy to Los Angeles and Back. The text is still pertinent today:

Not only is April 25th the anniversary of Italy’s liberation during

World War II in 1945 from Nazi fascism rule, it’s also the day commemorating Venice’s patron saint, St. Mark. San Marco, as he is proudly referred to around town, is represented in Venice as the winged lion, often holding an open book with the Latin inscription Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus—Peace to You Mark My Evangelist. The regal lion can be found in the most conspicuous places around the city and region of Venice, and can still be seen carved into the historical walls of foreign ports scattered around the Adriatic and Mediterranean were La Serenissima—the Most Serene Republic of Venice once ruled.

How Saint Mark came to rest in Venice: It is said that in 828 A.D. due to the tension and the mercenary competition between La Serenissima and the Islamic regions to the south, the remains of Saint Mark were taken from Alexandria, Egypt and smuggled onto a boat stocked with pork meat. Not the most noble means of travel, particularly for a Saint, but quite an ingenuous idea on the part of two Venetian mariners—Bon or Good from Malamocca and Andrea known as Rustico or Rustic from Torcello. The shrewd captain and his first-mate knew that hiding dear Saint Mark among a bunch of ham hocks would keep the non-pork consuming Islamic customs agents from further investigating their cargo, and open up their nautical route back home to Venice, and a heroes’ welcome. In fact it is written that Doge Giustinian paid them 100 pounds of silver; a large sum that would enable them to finance the construction of St. Mark’s oratory on the island of Torcello, and become Venetian legends.

Il Bòcolo - The Rosebud

Shakespeare couldn’t have written a better tale.

There once was a noble young woman by the name of Maria Partecipazio who fell fast in love with a kind, yet poor troubadour named Tancredi. Of course that didn’t sit well with Maria’s father. So one night while the two were having a clandestine rendezvous in her family’s gondola, Maria whispered the perfect solution into her handsome poet’s ear. Tancre, she syllabled quietly so as not to be heard by the family gondolier if you were to join the military and become a war hero then I’m sure my father would let you marry me! Well the poor guy was pretty smitten and knowing a troubadour made fewer ducats than a soldier he followed his true love's suggestion.

Before he knew it he was part of Carlo Magno’s distinct order and fighting the tough battle against the Spanish Moors. But, as all good tragedies go, he never made it back. What happened was that while he was fighting the good fight—apparently in a garden—he was injured and fell on a bed of white roses, turning them deep red. Minutes before he expelled his last breath he plucked a long-stem rose from the bush and handed it to his companion and fighter of the cause, Orlando. It took all the strength Tancredi had to ask Orlando to deliver the rose tinged with his blood to his beloved Maria.

Soon after, Orlando arrived back in Venice; it was April 24th and the eve of the patron Saint’s celebration. In keeping with his promise, Orlando delivered the rose to Maria along with Tancredi’s final message of love. Nowhere is it written, but it is understood that Maria was quite distraught for having sent the only man she loved off to war, and to his death. The following morning, on the 25th of April, the young noble woman was found dead with Tancredi’s rosebud placed upon her heart.

From that moment on il bòcolo became the Venetian symbol to pledge one’s love and each year on April 25th thousands of maidens, young and old, are handed a long-stem red rose by their enamored knights.

Buona Festa della Liberazione - Buona Festa di San Marco!

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