La Serenissima and Her Patriarch

By Laura Giombini
Photos by Harry Stevens


ST MARK’S IN VENICE IS ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS SQUARES IN ITALY — known for its ancient Basilica visited every day by thousands of people from all over the world.


THE BASILICA IS FILLED WITH ART, with the best known the Golden Pall (in Italian, Pala d’Oro), a gold altarpiece embedded with precious stones which tells the story of Saint Mark.

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THE BASILICA IS DEDICATED to Saint Mark, Venice’s patron saint.  One of the four evamgelists, St. Mark’s distinctive symbol is the winged lion, which is recurrent in the city’s decoration and even in the flag of the Venetian Republic – one of the world’s oldest. His body is buried in the Basilica, after having been famously purloined from Islamic Alexandria by two Venetian merchants in 828. However, St Mark’s relics are not by any means the only relics in Venice, as the city actually preserves the bodies of 15 saints.


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SAINTS’ RELICS IN VENICE include those of Saint Lucy, Saint Stephen the Protomartyr, Saint Helen of Constantinople and Saint Lorenzo Giustiniani, the first Patriarch of Venice (1451-56).

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FOR MORE THAN 300 YEARS, the Patriarch of Venice’s venue was the Church of Saint Peter in Castello, as the Basilica was under the sole patronage of Venice’s powerful Doge. The Patriarch of Venice moved to the Basilica of Saint Mark only in 1807, after the fall of the Republic of Venice.

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IN THE LAST CENTURY, THREE OF THE PATRIARCHS OF VENICE HAVE BEEN ELECTED POPE:  Saint Pius X (born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto), Saint John XXIII (born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli) and the Servant of God John Paul I (born Albino Luciani).

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THE PATRIARCHS USUALLY LIVE IN THE PATRIARCHAL PALACE, in Piazzetta dei Leoncini, a small square at the north-eastern corner of Saint Mark’s Square. Nowadays, the Patriarchate consists of not only La Serenissima and her Lagoon, but also parishes located on the mainland — Mira, Quarto d’Altino, Eraclea or Caorle.

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TODAY’S PATRIARCH OF VENICE is Monsignor Francesco Moraglia. A tall, slim man, his manner is very polite and somewhat shy, though he can be highly resolute in faith matters. He was appointed Patriarch of Venice by Pope Benedict XVI. This appointment was very difficult, particularly because of his Genoese origins. In fact, Venice and Genoa have been rival cities since the maritime Republic’s time. However, the Patriarch nowadays is much beloved by the Venetians, due to his care for people’s situation during today’s ongoing economic crisis.


ON THE SCENE: In October 2011, during the flooding of the Lunigiana, the Patriarch interrupted his work to assist people affected by the disaster, supported by his priests and seminarians. Moraglia was born in Genoa on the 25th of May, 1953. In contrast with his predecessors Sarto, Roncalli and Luciani – all of whom were elected Pope in the 20th century — he came from an educated, well-to-do family of lawyers and teachers. He entered the seminary in 1972 and was ordained priest on 29 June 1977 by the Archbishop of Genoa, Cardinal Giuseppe Siri.


FRANCESCO MORAGLIA SHARES HIS LOVE FOR TRADITION with other priests, bishops and archbishops from Genoa, such as Mgr. Angelo Bagnasco, Mgr. Mauro Piacenza, Mgr. Luigi Ernesto Palletti and the marshal of Pope’s celebrations, Mgr. Guido Marini. He has re-introduced the tradition of the monthly pilgrimage to several sanctuaries of the Diocese, and these events are drawing large numbers of people.


THE PATRIARCHATE OF VENICE, like almost every Diocese in the world, has its typical festivals – the most famous of which is Carnivale in the days prior to Lent.


SAINT MARK’S DAY is celebrated on 25 April and is the festival of the patron saint of Venice.


FESTA DE LA SENSA: this festival is celebrated on Ascension Thursday (in Venetian dialect, la Sensa) with a pilgrimage to the church of Saint Nicholas in the Lido.


REDEEMER’S DAY (third Sunday in July) features a pilgrimage to the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer. During the day, the Venetians build a temporary bridge which connects the church with Saint Mark’s Square.


SANTA MARIA DELLA SALUTE’S FEAST occurs on the 21st of November and consists of a pilgrimage to her magnificent church, in which Venetians show their gratitude to Mary after she freed the city from the plague.   The Patriarchate also celebrates Saint Roch’s Day on the 16th of August, and Saint Mary of the Angels, a festival which occurs every five years, on the 8th of September.


IN TIMES PAST IT WAS OBVIOUS TO ALL THAT THESE TRADITIONAL FEASTS WERE CHRISTIAN EVENTS such as commemorations of Biblical events, miracles and saints. Tradition, in fact, has preserved all of these for us. One might say that tradition is the means by which Christian culture is conveyed from one generation to the next. This is nowhere so evident as in the traditions of Venice, and the Patriarch who serves her today.

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