(Part of Bellini’s Procession of the Cross. Image from Hibbert 1988)

(image from Demus 1960) 




(image by Helen Goodchild)

The church is a cruciform building (i.e. creates the shape of a Greek cross) with five domes which almost all of them are elliptical. These domes are supported by piers while columns support the arches in the transepts. Each dome is buttressed by vaults creating a space, which is covered by arcades so that in each of the crossarms of the church two aisles are formed. Galleries surround the entire circumference of the building with the exception of the main apse. The main apse is created by a series of multiple arches and artifice by which the main axis of the church appears longer (Demus 1960).                                                                                            

     (image from Demus 1960)


There were sixteen windows in each of the domes, three or seven windows in the apse while Demus guesses that there must have been eight windows in the outer walls. Under the presbytery there is a – still existing – twenty-two meter long crypt with three apses to the east and niches on its walls, while fifty-six columns support its vaults. The general concept of St. Mark’s architecture shows that it attempted to imitate the church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople (Demus 1960, 90).


(image from


In the façade of the church there are five round-arched doorways, crowned with mosaics and further decorated with clusters of columns and a variety of carvings. In the central gallery, in the terrace above the portico stand the four horses, while above the terrace there are another five blind arches decorated with themes from the New Testament (Hibbert 1988, 340). This variety of ornaments and use of  various materials result to an exquisite decorated façade with lavish ornaments such as marbles and reliefs, crockets, pinnacle, statues, while creating a complex  and intriguing skyline (Hibbert 1988, 340).

E.P- F.K




The body of St. Mark was taken from Alexandria (Egypt) in 829 by two Venetian merchants with the help of two Greek monks and was transferred to Venice. When the body first arrived on the city it was deposed at the Palace of Doge (Demus 1960, 8,11; Cruz 1984, 118;  Paoletti and Radke1997, 138-9). The translation has been depicted in the church of St. Mark in the thirteenth century in the lunette of the doorway in the extreme left of he facade, the Porta Sant’ Alippio. The depiction is interesting for another reason. It is the only surviving mosaic of the façade itself and as Demus says it shows how the Venetianas saw their San Marco in the thirteenth century (Demus 1960, 103).


(image from


  (image from Fortini-Brown 1997, 27)


What survives today in the church of San Marco in Venice is only a fraction of its original treasures. Most of them were plundered by the French under Napoleon in 1797. Amongst the surviving objects is a “PALA GEMIS PRECIOSA”, the renowned Pala d’Oro. The word Pala could be translated as altarpiece but other names also include paliotto, tabernaculum, frontale, ancona (Borsook and Superbi-Gioffredi 1994, 14). Placed on the high altar and under a baldachin this exquisite piece of medieval craftsmanship is made of gold, silver, and is covered with precious stones; one thousand nine hundred and seventy-six of them (Hahnloser and Pollaco 1994, 4).  Truly this is an altarpiece made of gold, a Pala d’Oro..

The first altarpiece was commissioned in 976 by Doge Pietro I Orseolo (976-978) from Constantinople (Volbach 1965, 3). The information is recorded in the early eleventh-century Chronicon Venetum of John the Deacon (Monticolo 1890, 143; Bucton and Osborne 2000, 48). In the year 1105, a second piece was commissioned by Doge Ordelaffo Falier (1102-1118), and was subsequently renovated first in 1209 by Doge Pietro Zanni (1205-1229), and then by Doge Andrea Dandolo (1343-1354) who is responsible for its present shape (Volbach 1965, 3; Buckton and Osborne 2000, 43, 48; Hahnloser and Pollaco 1994, 81-101). This is the altarpiece which  Syropoulos describe and which John VIII Palaiologos and Patriarch Joseph witnessed during their stay in Venice.


The façade of the Pala d’Oro depicts a series of cloisonné enamels produced either in Constantinople or locally (Murray and Murray 1996, 396). The Christological cycle includes the major feasts with one peculiarity: the Anastasis is placed before the Crucifixion. It is not unlikely that during the final restoration the artisan, unfamiliar with the Byzantine Anastasis, misplaced it before the Crucifixion. This probably reflects the distance the distance between the two cultures during the 14th century, something also attested a century later, in the words of Patriarch Joseph, who refuses to venerate the icons of the Saints and Christ, as he could not ‘recognise’ them (Laurent 1971, 250).


The rest of the enamels depict scenes from the Life of St. Mark, a theme appropriate for the Venetian Republic.  





(image from Morris 1980, 176)

      SAN GIORGIO              


 (image from



The Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio is situated in the towered island of  San Giorgio Maggiore  and due to its geographical position and proximity to San Marco was traditionally used as an anteroom to san Marco and the Doge’s palace (Mallet 1973, 121; Morris 1980, 13).  The buildings next to the monastery were frequently used as lodging for guests mostly ambassadors and other high ranking visitors (Fortini Brown 1990, 139).

John VIII Palaiologos had stayed in the monastery as a guest of the Doge when in 1423 he visited Venice as a representative of his father and Emperor Manuel II (Romano 2007, 60). However in his second visit as an Emperor in 1437, due to the Council of Ferrara, John stayed at the palace of the Marquees of Ferrara in Venice and the monastery became the lodging of the Patriarch according to the Senate’s decision (Romano 2007, 135).










The Translation is © Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, IAA, University of Birmingham 2008


All images are the property of those cited and may not be used for profit.


Last updated 19 June 2008