The Lions of Venice

February 14, 2011 / Art & Archaeology
Venice, Veneto

Legend has it that two Venetian merchants stole the remains of St. Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria in the 9th Century. Once the saint’s relics were deposited in the new basilica of Venice in 828, it was just a matter of time before St. Mark was accepted as the new patron saint of Venice.

Not only did St. Mark protect the Venetians, along with St. Christopher (patron of sailors) and St. Sebastian (patron saint against the plague), but he also did a great job of helping them with their diplomacy.

Not every political power had a patron saint who was an evangelist, and because of this Venice received a certain amount of regard on the international scene. Also, since St. Mark was the patron saint of lions (also lawyers, basket weavers and stain glass workers), this meant that Venice was allowed to use the lion as its state symbol. A huge honor to be able to use one of the four living creatures that John saw praising God at His throne.

Jean Tori

by Jean Tori

Artist- Art website: Art blog: Design company: Jean also rents holiday houses in her medieval hamlet in Umbria at

12 Responses to “The Lions of Venice”

  1. The lions head shown from Venice in the ? C. is almost the exact same lions head battering ram from the ship on Tiber Island on the altar of Aesculapius which must date from the 2nd C. BC . Coincidence ?

  2. What about St-Theodore he is also a Patron Saint of Venice, the original I believe.

  3. Laurent, you’re right, he was the first saint – considered a warrior saint. He’s the statue in Piazza San Marco standing over a crocodile. Not that he was a patron saint of crocodiles, however, can you imagine if Venice was filled with reptiles instead of lions?! Interesting visions!

  4. I am curious as to why St. Mark would decide to protect Venice and the people of city that stole him from his resting place in Alexandria? Seems to me St. Mark would have been more protective of Alexandria and it’s people. Either way, the lion is a majestic city symbol of which I have many great photos and memories of from my visit. Thank you for sharing.

  5. giuseppe spano (jojo)
    giuseppe spano (jojo)

    some day or year perhaps try counting the lions, impossible…

  6. Francis Fontinell

    Let’s have more on Venice and Florence when possible. Rome alone is not the only great city in Italy

  7. mary jane

    Venice, the most romantic city possible, a perfect choice for today’s note.
    Not so romantic is the fact that the space between the lion column (shown in the last photo) and the nearby one with St. Theodore (and his crocodile) was where capital punishment was carried out during the (not so serene) years of the Serenissima.

  8. The winged lion. Il potere della Repubblica Veneziana, il leone che vola. You will find this symbol of Venice throughout the Veneto region and parts of Croatia that were under Venetian rule.

  9. If you have ever believed that the city which has the most lions in the world is in Africa, you have never been to Venice.
    Venice is the only place which showcases the largest number of lions in the world. The beautiful sculptures of the winged lion of Venice are hanging in almost every corner of the city .They are also found in the city which was conquered during its vast dominium and ancient Republic.

    The winged lion is usually accompanied by a halo, a sword and a book under the front right foot on which the motto reads: “Pax tibi Marce, Evangelista meus’ (Peace be with you, Mark, my Evangelist). The full sentence would also include the words, “Hic requiescet tuum corpus” or “Here rest your body,” which, according to an ancient tradition, an angel in the form of a winged lion would turn to the saint, shipwrecked in the lagoons and would announce that for one day in those lands he would find his body in a place of rest and worship. In fact, the body of St. Mark was brought to Venice by two Venetian merchants, Buono da Malamocco and Rustico da Torcello, after it was stolen from Alexandria in Egypt.

    The Venetian lion appears in two distinct forms. One is as a winged animal resting on water, to symbolise dominance over the seas, holding St. Mark’s Gospel under a front paw. You can see these mighty animals all round the Mediterranean, usually on top of a classical stone column. The other form, which is perhaps more interesting, is known as the lion “in moleca”.

    It is still a fact that the lion, the symbol of majesty and power, has always been a figure that has fascinated the Venetians. In addition to the many sculptural representations that we can find around the city or representations of armorial bearings, such as painted flags in Venice, real lions could be found even in the gardens of the palaces. Even in 1316 a lioness gave birth in the courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale to the surprise of all the people.

    Through the years, Venetians have been replicating sculptures of lions and there are still few companies in Venice, such as Ithaca Art who continues to replicate by carefully following the ancient techniques.

    If you want to know more about Venetian Lions or add a Venetian touch to your home and garden you can buy a replica at Ithaca Art at

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  10. Hanging in almost every corner of Venice, the beautiful sculptures of the winged lion represent the symbol of this city and of the land conquered during its vast dominium and ancient Republic.
    Other than decorating the city or showcasing the conquered places, some lions such as the lions’ mouth of truth had curious and less ornamental purposes.

    Still visible in Venice and crafted as white marble bas-reliefs, these mouths of truth were depicting the head of a lion or sometimes, an elaborate facial expression.
    In place of the mouth, there was a hole to insert the sheets of paper with the secret complaints of the Venetians.
    The complaints could relate to several types of crimes including blasphemy and tax evasion.
    Due to their huge popularity, the Lions’ mouths of truth were located near the hospitals, on the facades of churches, near the houses of judges but also in St. Marks’ square, Palazzo Ducale.
    The charges could not be anonymous and had to cite at least two witnesses, otherwise the accusers were burned by the judges.

    The most dangerous secret complaints were those that were made on charges of treason and conspiracy against the State. It seems that the first Lions’ mouths of truth were introduced after the attempted coup of Baiamonte Tiepolo in 1310.
    In this case, even without supporting witnesses, complaints were forwarded to the dreaded Council of Ten, who immediately investigated the suspects. Thus began the shadowing and often preventative imprisonment of the accused.
    The suspect could remain for weeks or months in chains, awaiting trial.
    Through the years, Venetians have been replicating sculptures of lions and there are still a few companies in Venice, such as Ithaca Art who continues to replicate by carefully following the ancient techniques.

    If you want to know more about Venetian Lions or add a Venetian touch to your home and garden then you can buy a bas-relief wall art sculpture replica from Ithaca Art at
    Want to know more about Venetian lions? Visit

    ABOUT ITHACA ART: Ithaca Art is one the leading sources of museum-quality reproductions. With a new website launched last month, Ithaca Art’s artists are trained in art history and classic craftsmanship.
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