I think most Christians would agree that one of the greatest churches in Christendom is also one of its most unusual. The setting of this church, on Piazza San Marco adjoining the Doge's Palace, is lovely and allows us to see some of the unusual architectural features of the church, such as the five large domes on its roof -- reminiscent of a mosque's or Orthodox cathedral's domes.
Basilica San Marco was consecrated in 832 AD as a place to house the remains of the Apostle St. Mark, author of one of the gospels in the New Testament. His remains had been smuggled out of Alexandria and brought to Venice where St. Mark was soon declared as the patron saint of the city.
The first Basilica was burned down in 976 so the church was rebuilt. The present basilica was completed in 1071 and has been in faithful service for more than a thousand years -- a time frame that is difficult for most Americans to fathom.
Basilica San Marco was the product of Venice at its prime -- when it was a powerhouse capable of bringing home looted treasures from around the world. Over the centuries, many details like statues were added and there are numerous Byzantine mosaics on the façade, many depicting the death and resurrection of Jesus. These are nearly as old as the building itself, and are beautifully detailed and set on a gold background, as you can see in the following photos:
The cathedral's famed four bronze horses on the west facade were brought to Venice at the time of the Fourth Crusade (1204) from Constantinople, where they had been part of a Greco-Roman sculpture of a chariot drawn by four horses abreast. They were removed to Paris by Napoleon but were returned in 1815. Later, to protect them from the elements, the originals were brought inside and replicas were put in their place.
The basilica’s interior is decorated top to bottom with mosaics on gold background and with many varieties of marble. Photographs within the Basilica are not allowed, but the following photos were taken outside the sanctuary in a hall we had to wait in. They detail some of the amazing craftsmanship you'll see in these works of art.
The church is filled with precious and centuries-old objects which for a small fee you can visit. Be sure not to miss this opportunity.
There is nothing quite like Basililca San Marco and it is one of the many things that makes visiting Venice such an interesting and unique experience.
We are all aware of the challenges Venice faces from sinking of the islands on which the city rests to the damage inflicted by high high tides. A number of efforts are underway to help preserve this precious structure and so many other buildings in this, the most unique city in the world.