The third week of Lent begins in the shadow of the Capitoline Hill at the minor basilica dedicated to St. Mark.
Nestled in the small Piazza di San Marco that looks onto the much larger Piazza Venezia is the minor basilica dedicated to St. Mark the Evangelist. The first building on the site was recorded in 336AD and was started by Pope Mark.
Over a century later the church was recorded in the 499 synod of Pope Symmachus as Titulus Marci and it was at this time it also became one of the stational churches for Lent. Not much is known after the initial building of the church, however in 792, Pope Adrian I ordered a restoration of the building and shortly after that, in 833, Gregory IV ordered the church be rebuilt. This work, and the addition of a bell tower in 1154 all maintained the traditional look of the church. However, major work came about in the 15th century when Pope Paul II commissioned another rebuilding and the building took on a more Renaissance style. These works included the portico and loggia we see today and the additions were built out of marble salvaged from the Colosseum and nearby Theatre of Marcellus. These works were the designs of Leon Battista Alberti, often referred to as an architect, his skills went further and included writing, poetry, philosopher, cryptographer. He was also a priest and is regarded in his home country as the epitome of the Renaissance man.
Following this work, Paul II, a Venetian by birth gave the church to the Venetians living in Rome, a role it retains to this day.
More work followed on the building and between 1654 and 1657 a large phase of works began which took until 1750 to complete. These restorations gave it the Baroque decoration it still bears today.
The Renaissance work raised the façade of the church so to reach the interior you descend a small flight of stairs. Despite the subsequent changes and the clear Baroque influences, the church still follows its ancient basilica format which includes a raised sanctuary.
Mosaics that decorate the apse date back to Pope Gregory IV’s changes in the 9th century and show the Pope of the time, distinguished by a square halo. He is seen dedicating a model of the church to Christ being watched by Mark the Evangelist, Pope St. Mark, who built the first church and other saints.
Cardinal Maria Quirini, a cardinal priest of the basilica who completed the last major renovation, also restored the Choir, renewing the pavement of the Chapel of the Sacrament and rebuilding the high altar, where the urn containing the remains of Pope St. Mark resides today. Overhead, one of two original 15th century wooden ceilings in Rome can be seen, this one bearing the emblem of Pope Paul II. The other is in the basilica of St. Mary Major.
Notable memorials in the church include one for Leonardo Pesaro, a 16 year old who was a member of a major Venetian family. The tomb was completed by Antonio Canova who was famed for his sculptures in marble. In the entrance portico are some early Christian graves. Amongst the ancient stones is one for Vannozza dei Cattanei, famed as the mistress of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia – who would eventually become Pope Alexander VI.