And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

mandag 25. april 2016

The Martyrdom of Mark the Evangelist


Today is the feast of Mark the Evangelist, often believed to have been a disciple of Peter. The shortest and the oldest of the four gospels is attributed to him, and in the Middle Ages a vast repository of legends accrued around him. Most famously, Mark achieved a central position in the mythology of Venice as the city's patron and defender. At a later point I hope to return to the Venetian tradition, whose legitimacy might have been aided by its dissemination through Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda Aurea, but for the present post I will give you the passion of Saint Mark as it is told in the Old English Martyrology.

The martyrdom of Saint Mark
BL MS Royal 20 D VI, Lives of the saints, Wauchier de Denain, 2nd quarter of the 13th century
(Courtesy of British Library)

On the same day [as Rogation Day] is the passion of St Mark the Evangelist. He was St Peter's godson in baptism, and he learned from him. And what St Peter said to peopel about Christ during the day, that St Mark then wrote down at night. And he first concealed that from St Peter, wherefore his gospel is thus called furtum laudabile, praiseworthy theft. He was the first Christian bishop in the great city of Alexandria; and he first converted to God's faith the province of Egypt and the province of Libya, and Marmarica, and Pentapolis. In these countries there used to be people so unclean that they worshipped devils and ate carrion. This St Mark healed sick people and lepers, and resuscitated dead people from death. But then some impious men became envous of that [and] went to a church on the first day of Easter when he was celebrating mass, and tied a rope around his neck and dragged him out across the stones on the ground, in such a way that his flesh stuck to the ground and the stones were stained crimson with his blood. And then in the evening they put him into prison; there God's angel appeared to him at night and said to him that the next morning he would depart to eternal rest. And finally Christ himself appeared to him and said to him: 'Peace e with you, our Evangelist Mark.' Then in the morning the pagans dragged him with the rope, until he gave up the ghost to God. Then they wanted to incinerate his body. Then came thunder and rain [and] killed many of the pagans, and the others ran away. And devout men buried his body in a great and wonderful church which is in the city of Alexandria.
- The Old English Martyrology, edited and translated by Christine Rauer, D. S. Brewer, 2013: 87-89

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