The Legend of St Mark's Ring

Venice's saint protects it from a boatload of devils

Presentation of the ring to Doge, Bordone

On St Mark's Day (April 25), back in the days of the Republic of Venice, there would be a procession led by the Scuola Grande di San Marco, bearing relics associated with the saint, including a book said to have been written in his own hand, and a gold bishop's ring.

25 February, 1341: it was a dark and stormy night on the lagoon, when a stranger approached an old fisherman and demanded to be rowed across the lagoon to the island of San Giorgio, where another passenger got on board, and then to the island of San Nicolò, where a third stranger joined the company.

The three ordered the fisherman to take them to the mouth of the lagoon, where a giant ship full of devils was causing the storm. The three strangers revealed themselves to be St Mark, St George and St Nicholas, who used their holy powers to send the devils packing and calmed the lagoon.

The fisherman returned each saint to his island, St Mark gave the fisherman his ring, and told him to present it to the Doge, who would 'fill thy cap with golden sequins.'

Which indeed he did.

In the Renaissance, the Scuola di San Marco commissioned Paris Bordone to paint the scene for their Scuola: today it hangs in the Accademia. And the ring (and St Mark's thumb) are still to be seen in St Mark's Treasury.

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