St. Mark's Day, feast of the rosebud

23 August 2021

Venice, 25 April 2021- April 25, St. Mark’s Day, is also commonly known as “Festa del bòcolo” In fact, an ancient Venetians tradition handed down up to the present time, wants that exactly on the day of the celebration of the death and martyrdom of the Patron Saint of the city, men offer as a present a red rose bud (called bòcolo by Venetians) to their beloved.

In popular culture there is a close relationship between the Saint, women, and this flower. It is said, in fact, that in Alexandria, in Egypt, from the blood of the Evangelist who died as a martyr, bloomed some roses and this same flower is the one linked to the representation of the female figure that, in sixteenth century Venice, when married (novizza in Venetian dialect) was depicted with a rose in her hand.

However, two are the legends to which the origin of this kind gift is linked and that, still today, continues to be a part of the Venetians tradition.

The legend of Vulcana and Tancredi’s love

The first popular legend, from which the tradition of the rosebud would result from, refers to the story of an unlucky love. She was Maria Partecipazio, daughter of the Venetian nobleman Orso, and nicknamed “Vulcana” because of her deep black and burning eyes. He was a composer and performer, called Tancredi. The legend linked to this story says that the tradition of giving a rosebud on St. Mark’s Day derived precisely from this troubled love.

To overcome the obstacles that prevented their marriage, due to the difference of their social status, Vulcana figured out a plan and convinced Tancredi to leave for the war that Emperor Charlemagne was fighting against the Moors in Spain, as to gain glory and honor. The young lover decided to accept and fought with distinction in the war to the point that his reputation extended as far as Venice, making him worthy of the marriage with the daughter of a nobleman.

But one day, during a battle, Tancredi was mortally wounded and, falling on a rosebush, he dyed it the same color as his blood. Barely alive the young man decided to pick a rosebud and begged his friend Orlando, Charlemagne’s Paladin (mentioned in the epic poem “La Chanson de Roland”, as in many other literary works), to bring the flower to his beloved Vulcana in Venice, as the extreme witness of his love.

Orlando, fulfilled his promise and left for Venice, arriving in the city on the eve of St. Mark’s Day. Once he met Vulcana, he handed her the love token, leaving the girl filled with sorrow. The following morning, on April 25, the handmaids found Vulcana dead in her bed with the bud, soaked in the blood of her beloved, placed on her chest.

The news immediately spread through the city and, exactly to recall the unlucky story of Vulcana, the men in Venice began to offer, every year on St. Mark’s Day, a rosebud to their beloved as a sign of their love.

The legend of Basilio and the roses of peace

Another less known legend, from which the tradition of giving a red rosebud to the beloved on St. Mark’s Day should be related, is the one linked to the theft of St. Mark’s relics from Alexandria to Venice. The relics of the Saint were carried on a ship, hidden in the fruit and meat baskets, forbidden to Muslims, by two Venetian merchants, Rustico Da Torcello and Bono (or Tribuno) Da Malamocco, who arrived with the body of the Saint in Venice on January 31, 828.

However, according to the popular tradition, they were helped by a servant, named Basilio, who had smartly gave an essential support to the theft of the body and, as a reward, got from his masters the chance to take with him the rose bed that was growing next to the tomb of the Evangelist in Alexandria.

Once back home, in Giudecca, Basilio immediately planted the roses in his garden and they bloomed beautifully for many years, even after his death. When the property was acquired by Basil’s sons, they left the rose bed exactly where it was placed, marking the boundary of the house, but the roses continued to grow just as long as good relationships between family members were maintained.

When the relationships began to get worse and worse (it is said that even a murder occurred within the family members) roses stopped blooming, although still growing.

One day, on April 25 of an unknown year, a girl belonging to Basil’s family noticed a young man staring at her in the garden of the rival family, just beyond the roses. From the encounter between their gazes, they fall in love and the stolen rose bush bloomed again in Basil’s garden, creating lots of red buds. The young man, to express his love, cut off the most beautiful bud, kissed it and threw it to the girl, bringing peace back into the family and allowing the plant to bloom again.

Since then Venetians, still today, give a rosebud to their beloved exactly on April 25.