After his arrest by the Romans in 68 AC, Saint Mark was martyred, and buried under the church of Alexandria, which he founded. In the year 828 two merchants were able to steal Saint Mark‘s body in an incredible journey that ended in Venice.
Saint Mark buried in Alexandria
In 828 a Venetian trading ship was blown off course and landed in the Arab port city of Alexandria. There two merchants by the names of Tribunus and Rusticus disembarked and very quickly they established themselves in the city to run their affairs, but an unusual relation was set with the Greek guardians of the Saint Mark’s Shrine. Alexandria at the time was very known for its christian history, as it was believed for Coptic Christians that Saint Mark the Evangelist, author of the second Gospel arrived in Alexandria around 60 AD and stayed for about seven years converting many to Christianity and performed many miracles. But most of all he founded the church in Alexandria and became the first Bishop of Alexandria. Saint Mark was arrested and killed by the Romans during a festival of Serapis in AC 68, it was said that his body was buried under the church he had founded.
The Theft of Saint Mark
Hearing of a Muslim plan to strip the shrine in order to build a palace in the ancient city of Babylon, the merchants encouraged by the Greeks decided to rescue Mark and bring his remains to Venice. At the time, Venice was little more than a small fishing village, with minimal economic power and even less status compared to the neighboring city Aquileia, which by contrast claimed patriarchal rights, and linked these directly to Saint Mark, based on his fabled journey to the city and his presumed establishment of a church there at the behest of Saint Peter. Both cities were in constant rivalry in terms of prestige and history, but that was to be shifted in favor of Venice following the theft of Saint Mark’s body that landed on the Venetian soil. In an act of trickery the Venetians merchants replaced Mark’s body with a decoy clad in his saintly vestments while boarding on their ship, they deceived the Muslim customs guards by covering the relics with pork and reported their goods with the fateful words “kanzir, kanzir” (pig), and were thus cleared by the excisemen who held their noses in disgust at the idea of pork. On their way back to Venice, a storm hit the vessel, fearing death the crew started to pray, and somehow Saint Mark responded by demonstrating his approval of the theft by protecting the vessel and saving it from disaster on a rocky estuary and by fighting off a threatening sea creature.
Saint Mark arrival in Venice
As they neared home, Tribunus and Rusticus began to fear that their visit to the forbidden territory of the infidel Muslims would bring them punishment. With an attempt to avoid the punishment, they presented Saint Mark‘s relics as a gift to the Venice doge (governor), and very quickly both men were honored with a sizable reward and considered as heroes among the Venetian society. Moreover after the theft, Venice was finally able to speak of itself in terms of divine authority and destiny and to cite Saint Mark‘s presence in the city as material evidence of that role. With this success, Venice launched itself in a new direction with confidence and fueled the Venetian state, in terms of territorial ambition, economic strength and military potential. On 31st January 828 the body of Saint Mark was deposited at the Port of Olivolo, welcomed by the local bishop and the Doge Giustiniano Particiaco. The relics were first placed in a corner of the Ducal Palace to await the building of the new basilica that was to house them.