The 25th of April is a festive day in Venice and all of Italy. But what do we celebrate, are you wondering? Well, in Venice, it is not less than 3 different festivals which take place on the 25th of April, two of which are strictly local celebrations while the other one is a national holiday. Within these local celebrations, there is one which is brilliantly popular and based on a beautiful story which, don’t tell us we didn’t warn you, might make your heart melt…
First, let us tell you about the 25th of April in the books: the end of fascism and the martyrdom of St Mark
On the 25th of April, all of Italy celebrates the “Festa della Liberazione”, Liberation Day, a national holiday commemorating the end of 20 years of fascist dictatorship and the Nazi occupation of Italy.
Venice, which played an active role in the nazi-fascist resistance ( who knows, maybe Manin and Tommaseo planted the seeds of rebellion in us?), also celebrates, on this day, an important local festival: the one of its Patron Saint Mark, whose martyrdom took place on a 25th of April. Even if the relics of Saint Mark, stolen from Alexandria, were in Venice since 828 C.E, St Mark, San Marco, was declared the new Patron of the city, only in 1071, instead of the previous Patron San Teodoro di Amasea.
Now that you know these two important historical milestones, what we decided to speak to you about, in detail, is a very beautiful and ancient custom that takes place on the day of San Marco, a display of love linked to a Venetian legend…
The Legend of the Bocolo
This tale, which takes place in the IX century in Venice, speaks about the love story of a young woman and a young man.
She, Maria, was incredibly beautiful, admired and desired by every man in Venice. He, Tancredi, was beautiful, kind, sweet, dearly loved and in love with Maria.
Maria was the daughter of Orso Partecipazio, the headman of a noble and respected Venetian family. Tancredi, a storyteller… which could be translated as a “good-for-nothing“, in the eyes of Maria’s father.
Without a second thought, once aware of the mutual devotion of the lovebirds, Messer Orso Partecipazio strictly forbade the young couple to see each other, let alone to have a future together! Loving her lover immensely, but knowing her father well, Maria understood that with no wealth and no noble heritage, Tancredi had only one way to be believed adequate for her: covering himself with glory on the battlefield.
With Maria’s blessing and the promise to wait for him, Tancredi left for Spain to become a paladin of Charlemagne, and fight the Moors in defense of Christianity.
Within a few months, the young storyteller fighting with Orlando, Rinaldo, and other paladins by his side, proved his incredible value as a soldier and became a living nightmare to the Moors.
How life changed for Tancredi! In a matter of months, he went from being a storyteller singing tales about paladins to being the paladin whose tale the storytellers were singing about.
The news about Tancredi’s immense courage and success soon spread and reached Venice, leaving Maria enormously pleased. Maria (as well as every woman in Venice who heard the deeds of Tancredi) was not the only one excited by the news, her father was almost as delighted! Orso started publicly singing the praises of Tancredi, now finally even wishing for him to take Maria as his wife! However, weeks passed without news of the young storyteller. Until the day the paladins returned to Venice… without Tancredi amongst them.
Orlando told Maria of her lover’s fate: Tancredi ended up being isolated during a violent battle and fighting all alone over 100 soldiers which, at last, skewered him. When Orlando managed to fight his way through the battle, he found a dying Tancredi who handed him a rosebud soaked with his own blood and asked him to deliver it to his beloved Maria.
Maria, in shock, took the stained and dried rosebud and went to her room, incapable of producing any sound. Later that day she was found lifeless in her bed; in her hands the blood-soaked rosebud, as fresh as the day it had been plucked.
That day was the 25th of April.
Ever since then, on the 25th of April, the Day of Saint Mark, all Venetian men give their beloved the “bòcolo” (a ruby red rose), as a symbol of an endless love that knows no hurdles.
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