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St. Mark the Evangelist and his Feast Day

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.

English Custom

‘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.

Amen.

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

At Venice—