The sight before us is a revelation of almost celestial glory. This vaulted structure, rising up on all sides, glows with gold and purple and is penciled in sunlight, which streams down from the overarching domes ; and the broad bands of changeful light, gleaming from precious marbles and falling upon the mosaic floor beneath our feet, make it a rival of the famous pavement of the Baths of Caracalla. It is the general impression, rather than the details of the structure, that makes the whole a dream of unearthly splendor. And yet the details do not suffer by the closest examination and comparison, as, for instance, the pavement of the church. It is not only rich and beautiful in its patterns, but the symbols and allegories it represents are curious and interesting; such as a powerful and well-fed lion, a very king of the jungle, standing on the sea ; and a lean, emaciated lion standing on the land, denoting what would be the fate of Venice if she abandoned her profitable maritime commerce for territorial acquisitions. Again we see two cocks carrying off a fox, indicating the capture of the crafty Ludovico Sforza by two Gallic monarchs, Charles VII and Louis XII. This pavement is uneven and was long thought by some to be symbolical of the waves of the Adriatic, over which Venice was mistress, but it is probably due to the settling of the foundation of the building.
Direct your attention to the rich marble screen that separates the choir from the nave, which you see on our right. It is adorned, as you will observe, with bas-reliefs on the base, and with graceful Corinthian columns. It is surmounted by fourteen marble statues, executed in 1393, representing the Virgin, St. Mark and the twelve apostles. In the center is a silver crucifix, gilded, which is always covered by a curtain, as you see it now, except on great occasions. Over the figures nearest us you may discern the pipes of the great organ.
Two pulpits are seen here, one on either side of the screen. They are made of colored marble, the more distant one being of Byzantine design, adorned with a statue of an angel, and resting upon nine columns of variegated marble, while the nearer one rests upon eleven columns.
The high altar, farther to the right than we now see, stands beneath a canopy of verde antico, which rests upon four columns bearing inscriptions, and thought to date from the eleventh century. The front of the altar is emblazoned with plates of silver and gold encrusted with jewels, and is perfectly dazzling in its splendor. It was made in Constantinople in 1105. This altar is always covered with a curtain, except at Easter, when it is temporarily removed upon the payment of a small fee (five cents) by each visitor.
Beneath this high altar are said to repose the remains of St. Mark, the bringing of whose body from Alexandria to Venice was the result of the grasping nature of the King of Alexandria, who plundered the church where the evangelist was interred in order to adorn his palace. Two Venetian sea captains, then in the port, begged the privilege of taking the body to Venice, and in this they were seconded by the priests, who were in constant fear lest the body should be desecrated. The legend goes that no sooner was the ship bearing the precious remains out of sight of land than a fearful storm arose and all that night it raged furiously. When it had reached a degree of severity that appalled even the most courageous of the sailors, St. Mark appeared to the captain and told him to reef all sail as rapidly as possible, as they were fast driving on toward a ledge of rock and no time was to be lost. He also directed him how to steer and informed him how long the storm would last. So the safety of the ship and of the body itself was due to this miracle. It would seem, however, as though all this trouble might have been avoided if the legend is true which relates that once in his lifetime, when the evangelist was on his way to AIexandria, his ship was driven to take refuge among these Venetian islands during a terrible storm, and that it was then revealed to him that one day his body would rest here, beneath a beautiful cathedral, set in the midst of a magical city rising out of a fair and iridescent sea.
Notice the great lamp to our extreme left which hangs suspended from the roof. It is cunningly wrought and is of an elaborate and curious design. Observe also the statue of the Angel, seen above the farther pulpit, and the frescoes and mosaics which adorn the walls.
So beautiful and imposing is this cathedral that it stands unrivaled in the richness and charm of its architecture among the churches of the world ; we are not surprised that the building of the Italian Government at the Paris Exposition of 1900 was a model of this structure.
When looking from our first position in Venice (Position 92), we saw the bridge, Ponte della Paglia, just to the east of the Ducal Palace. We shall next take a position on the Ponte della Paglia, and view the Bridge of Sighs.