Saint-Mark Golden Basilica Sanctuary in Venice Italy

Saint-Mark Basilica Atrium's Mosaics in Venice Italy
S.Mark Atrium's Mosaics
« This simple design, a cross of equal arms, is, however, complicated and confused in any view of the church from without by the vast Atrium which surrounds the church up to its first story on three sides, the north, the west, and the south.

The Atrium, which thus encloses the church on three sides, is, as you find at once on entering it, by no means a part of the church proper, for it is not necessary to uncover there.

It is open in its west and northern parts, but its southern part has been screened off into two chapels, which are entered from the church itself, the Cappella Zen, into which one looks from the Atrium, and the Baptistery.

Such is the main plan of the building, the church proper having, as has been said, the shape of a Greek cross.

Saint-Mark Basilica's Bronze Horses in Venice Italy
Saint-Mark Basilica's Horses
Within, this Greek cross is roughly divided into five minor parts—the nave, the two transepts, the sanctuary, corresponding to four arms of equal length ; in the midst, where all these arms meet, there is, as it were, a square central portion, which, like each of the four arms, is covered with a dome.

The nave and transepts are each divided into three aisles by splendid Byzantine arcades, bearing open galleries.

[…] We have before us a building in the shape of a great cross, whose arms are of nearly equal length, and this cross is surrounded on three sides on its lower story by a vast outer court or Atrium.

Saint-Mark Basilica's Treasure, in Venice in Italy
Saint-Mark Treasure
Why? The Church of S. Mark is the Byzantine or Greek form of the basilica, it is the Greek translation of the most ancient form of Christian church, which was modelled from the old Roman court of justice, and which can, I suppose, best be realized today in S. Clemente in Rome.

That too has a sort of Atrium, but its necessity in a Christian church is not at first obvious to us of this late day.

[…] The Atrium, without the church, was the appointed gathering-place of the penitents and the catechumens and of such unbaptized persons as might wish by any means to gain admission after trial and examination to the body of the Faithful, the company of Christ, the Church Militant here on earth.

These persons in the earlier ages were not admitted into the church, they waited without.

Saint-Mark Basilica Ground Mosaics, in Venice in Italy
Saint-Mark Basilica Mosaics
Later the full rigour of this custom was relaxed, and the catechumens were admitted to the church at certain times and for certain parts of the Mass and the Divine Office, but they were obliged to retire to the Atrium, for instance, after the Gospel at Mass.

[…] Here in the sanctuary beside the great shrine and beyond it the altar of S. Mark with its four alabaster columns from the Temple of Solomon and mosaic in the apse, are many beautiful and wonderful things, such as those cipollino pillars carved in high relief that uphold the baldacchino of verde antico—all work of the tenth century—and the Pala d' Oro ; but to consider them here would confuse us in our examination of the church as a whole and its mystical teaching and significance.

When the catechumen or pilgrim had come so far, and had in the very kingdom of Heaven paid his respects to the shrine of the Evangelist, he would find himself once more in that central space under the great dome of the Ascension where all the church is one. »
Edward Hutton - Venice and Venetia - 1911

Saint-Mark Basilica Apse's Mosaics in Venice in Italy
Saint-Mark Apse's Mosaics
« From a door on the left of the Baptistery we enter the Church itself, if we do not do so by one of the three doors from the vestibule.

It is the general impression, not the detail, fascinating as that is, of S. Mark's, which makes it so transcendent.

The dim effects of shadow amid which golden gleams here and there illuminate some precious fragment of marble wall, or the peacock hues of a portion of the undulating and uneven pavement, make those who have any artistic feeling care relatively little for the technical details of architecture and sculpture.

The glory of the church depends even more upon its pavement than upon the mosaics on its walls.

The pavement has come to its present condition owing to the unsubstantial work in the supports beneath it.

On the left is the beautiful little octagonal chapel or shrine of the Holy Cross. »
Augustus J.C. Hare, St. Clair Baddeley – Venice 1904

Back to Top of Page