Saint Mark’s New Moon Day – is it real?
In the film The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Bella arrives in Volterra, Italy just in time to save Edward from revealing himself as a vampire to a crowd of mortals at the St. Mark’s Day festival on March 19. Festival goers, dressed in hooded red robes, march in a procession carrying a statue of Saint Mark to the church in the center of town. IN Dusk world, “Saint Mark” is glorified by mortals for ridding the city of vampires, when in fact he was a vampire himself. Volterra is the home of the Volturi, the lawmakers of the vampire world. Marcus is one of them. some Dusk fans wear red on March 19 to mark this holiday.
New moon author Stephenie Meyer borrowed the fictional St. Mark’s Day from the real European holiday of St. Mark’s Day. She changed the date: St. Mark’s Day is April 25. Because the date coincides with the observance of Easter (a movable holiday; the date varies, but usually occurs in March or April) and a number of other Eurasian spring holidays, St. Mark’s Day is believed to be a Christianized version of a much older, pagan ritual . In the book old, Edain McCoy writes: “As was done with many pagan festivals in Europe, the early church tried to redirect the symbolism of Ostara [the spring festival for Germanic Pagans] on the feast of Saint Mark. Rather than being a celebration of rebirth, images of St. Mark were focused on the death and martyrdom through which Christian rebirth is achieved.”
Saint Mark is traditionally considered the author of the Gospel of Mark in the Christian Bible. He is believed to have been a companion of St. Paul, the great early Christian evangelist whom the Book of Acts calls “John Mark.” A disciple of Paul, Mark is believed to have used Paul’s preaching as the basis for the gospel. He is also remembered as the founder of the Coptic Church. Coptic tradition holds that Mark appears in the Gospels as the young man who brought water to the house where the Last Supper took place for Jesus and his apostles, as the young man who fled naked when Jesus was arrested, and who poured out the water Jesus became wine at the wedding at Cana.
Mark is said to have been martyred on April 25, AD 68 in Alexandria, Egypt. A group of local people resented his attempts to turn them away from their traditional gods. They put a rope around his neck and dragged him through the streets until he died. His main sanctuaries are in Egypt and Italy. His Italian shrine is the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, which is traditionally said to be where Mark’s remains are buried. So he does have a connection to Italy, but not specifically to the city of Volterra.
Perhaps because of his martyrdom, many curious traditions have grown up over the centuries regarding the celebration of St. Mark’s feast day. In seventeenth to nineteenth century England, especially in the north and west, folklore held that the spirits of those who would die in the following year made a procession, in the order in which they would die, through the churchyard and into the church at midnight of St. Mark’s eve. Some said the procession would be of coffins or of decapitated or rotting corpses. Others said that the procession would be of recognizable ghostly ghosts and that one could sit and watch the procession as it passed and thus know who would die.
Folklore claims that to see these ghosts one must fast. Another legend claims that one must be present in the churchyard on St. Mark’s Eve three years in a row and only on the third year will one see the ghosts. Sometimes these living observers would see their own ghosts and die before long. Another superstition about St. Mark’s Eve is that on this night, witches who have sold their souls to the devil (or written their names in the devil’s book) and want to keep their otherworldly powers, must go three times around the church with their backs, to peer through the lock and recite certain words or their powers will be lost.
Another traditional activity for Markovden is stirring the ashes from the hearth. If the ashes formed the shape of a shoe, someone living in the household would die during the year.
St. Mark’s Eve was one of the three nights of the year associated with the dead. The others are Midsummer and Midsummer. According to some legends, in these three nights the deceased can return to earth as spirits. This All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween) belief is a Christian appropriation of the Celtic harvest festival Samhain, the point when the veil between the living and the dead was thinnest, and also midway between autumn and winter. Likewise, St. Mark’s Eve marks the midpoint between spring and summer and is associated with the pagan festival of Ostara. Midsummer Day, traditionally celebrated on June 23, is associated with the pagan holiday Midsummer or the summer solstice.
Not all of the legends associated with St. Mark’s Eve are related to death, however. The night was also the one in which the young women tried to guess who their future spouse would be. There were a number of ways to achieve this: by picking twelve sage leaves at midnight, walking nine times around a haystack, reciting: “Here’s the scabbard, now where’s the knife?” or by baking a dull cake, eating a piece of the cake, then go back to bed without saying a word (hence the word “dumb”). If a woman did any of these things, but especially if she prayed to St. Mark while doing them, she would see the shadow of or catch a glimpse of the man she would one day marry. But if she goes to bed without seeing such a shadow and dreams of a newly dug grave, it means that she will die unmarried.
However, these are mostly English customs. In Italy, if St. Mark’s Day is celebrated at all, it is by feasting, drinking, and/or offering bread to the less fortunate. The custom of wearing red and having a parade seems to be a Stephenie Meyer invention.
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