St. Mark’s Day
Our village church was named to honour St. Mark the Evangelist, whose feast day is on 25th April.
Mark was an Evangelist—one of the four men who wrote the Gospels found in the New Testament. Mark’s Gospel was written first, and it is the shortest description of Jesus’ life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. Mark’s writings helped both Matthew and Luke to write their Gospels.
Mark was not one of the original Apostles, and he probably never knew Jesus. Instead, it is believed that he was a member of the first Christian community. In his writings, St. Peter refers to Mark as his “son.” Peter may have used this term to show his love for Mark, or he may have used it because he was the one who baptized Mark. It is believed that Peter was the primary source for Mark’s Gospel.
Mark travelled with Sts. Paul and Barnabas to spread the Good News about Jesus. During his imprisonment in Rome, Paul mentions Mark’s concern for him and writes about how helpful Mark is in the ministry of helping others to believe in Jesus (Colossians. 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11).
Mark founded the Church in Egypt and he became bishop of Alexandria, an important centre of trade and power during ancient times. He died there sometime between the years 68-74 AD as a martyr for his belief in Jesus.
Mark’s Gospel is a lasting treasure for all believers. He wrote his Gospel to help people know that Jesus was the Son of God who suffered and died to save us from sin and death. When we read Mark’s Gospel, we learn that to be a follower of Jesus, we, too, must be willing to make sacrifices, to “take up our cross and follow” (Mark 8:34) Jesus as he asks us to do.
The symbol for Mark is a lion with wings. That is because his Gospel begins with the story of John the Baptist, a “voice crying in the wilderness” (Mark 1:3), like the roaring of a lion. Lions are called the kings of the jungle. Mark’s Gospel tells us about Jesus’ royalty as God’s Son, a kingship we share through our Baptism.
We celebrate Saint Mark’s feast day on April 25 and he patron of Notaries, Venice, Barristers. His life and Gospel remind us to share the Good News about Jesus with others.
‘Tis now, replied the village belle,
St. Mark’s mysterious eve,
And all that old traditions tell
I tremblingly believe;
How, when the midnight signal tolls,
Along the churchyard green,
A mournful train of sentenced souls
In winding-sheets are seen.
The ghosts of all whom death shall doom
Within the coming year,
In pale procession walk the gloom,
Amid the silence drear.’
It was the custom in villages in England, from the 17th century to the late 19th century, to sit in the church porch on St. Mark’s Eve. Those sitting had to keep silent between the bell tolling at 11.00 p.m. until the bell struck 1.00 a.m. In Yorkshire it was necessary to keep vigil for three successive nights. On the third such sitting, it was said that the ghosts of those to die during the year would be witnessed passing into the church. This practice took place throughout England, but was most prevalent in northern and western counties.
Some accounts of the custom state that the watchers must be fasting, or must circle the church before taking up position. The ghosts of those who were to die soon would be the first observed, while those who would almost see out the year would not be witnessed until almost 1.00 a.m. Other variations of the superstition say that the watchers would see headless or rotting corpses, or coffins approaching. Another tradition holds that a young woman can see the face of her future husband appear on her smock by holding it before the fire on St Mark’s Eve.
St. Mark’s Prayer
O ALMIGHTY God, who hast instructed thy holy Church with the heavenly doctrine of thy Evangelist Saint Mark:
Give us grace, that, being not like children carried away with every blast of vain doctrine, we may be established in the truth of thy holy Gospel;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Eve of St. Mark by John Keats
Upon a sabbath day it fell,
Twice holy was the sabbath bell
That call’d the folk to evening prayer—
The City streets were clean and fair
From wholesome drench of April rains
And on the western window panes
The chilly sunset faintly told
Of unmatur’d green vallies cold,
Of the green thorny bloomless hedge,
Of rivers new with springtide sedge,
Of primroses by shelter’d rills
And daisies on the aguish hills—
Twice holy was the sabbath bell:
The silent Streets were crowded well
With staid and pious companies
Warm from their fire-side orat’ries
And moving with demurest air
To even song and vesper prayer.
Each arched porch and entry low
Was fill’d with patient folk and slow,
With whispers hush, and shuffling feet
While play’d the organ loud and sweet—
The Bells had ceas’d, the prayers begun
And Bertha had not yet half done:
A curious volume patch’d and torn,
That all day long from earliest morn
Had taken captive her two eyes
Among its golden broideries—
Perplex’d her with a thousand things—
The Stars of heaven and angels’ wings,
Martyrs in a fiery blaze—
Azure saints in silver rays,
Moses’ breastplate, and the seven
Candlesticks John saw in heaven—
The winged Lion of St. Mark
And the covenantal Ark
With its many mysteries,
Cherubim and golden Mice.
Bertha was a maiden fair
Dwelling in the old Minster-square;
From her fireside she could see
Sidelong its rich antiquity—
Far as the Bishop’s garden wall
Where Sycamores and elm trees tall
Full-leav’d the forest had outstript—
By no sharp north wind ever nipt
So shelter’d by the mighty pile—
Bertha arose and read awhile
With forehead ‘gainst the window-pane—
Again she tried and then again
Until the dusk eve left her dark
Upon the Legend of St. Mark.
From plaited lawn-frill, fine and thin
She lifted up her soft warm chin,
With aching neck and swimming eyes
And daz’d with saintly imageries.
All was gloom, and silent all,
Save now and then the still footfall
Of one returning townwards late—
Past the echoing minster gate—
The clamorous daws that all the day
Above tree tops and towers play
Pair by pair had gone to rest,
Each in its ancient belfry nest
Where asleep they fall betimes
To musick of the drowsy chimes,
All was silent—all was gloom
Abroad and in the homely room—
Down she sat, poor cheated soul
And struck a Lamp from the dismal coal,
Leaned forward, with bright drooping hair
And slant book full against the glare.
Her shadow in uneasy guise
hover’d about a giant size
On ceilingbeam and old oak chair,
The Parrot’s cage and panel square
And the warm angled winter screen
On which were many monsters seen
Call’d Doves of Siam, Lima Mice
And legless birds of Paradise,
Macaw, and tender av’davat
And silken-furr’d angora cat—
Untir’d she read; her shadow still
Glower’d about as it would fill
The room with wildest forms and shades,
As though some ghostly Queen of spades
Had come to mock behind her back—
And dance, and ruffle her garments black.
Untir’d she read the Legend page
Of holy Mark from youth to age,
On Land, on Seas, in pagan-chains,
Rejoicing for his many pains—
Sometimes the learned Eremite
With golden star, or dagger bright
Referr’d to pious poesies
Written in smallest crowquill size
Beneath the text; and thus the rhyme
Was parcell’d out from time to time:
—’Als writith he of swevenis
Men han beforne they wake in bliss,
Whanne that hir friendes thinke hem bound
In crimped shroude farre under grounde;
And how a litling child mote be
A saint er its nativitie,
Gif that the modre (god her blesse)
Kepen in solitarinesse,
And kissen devoute the holy croce.
Of Goddis love and Sathan’s force
He writith; and thinges many mo:
Of swiche thinges I may not shew;.
Bot I must tellen verilie
Somdel of Saintè Cicilie;
And chieftie what he auctorethe
Of Saintè Markis life and dethe.’
At length her constant eyelids come
Upon the fervent Martyrdom;
Then lastly to his holy shrine
Exalt amid the tapers’ shine