Mark the Evangelist
Mark the Evangelist (1st century) is traditionally believed to be the author of the Gospel of Mark, drawing much of his material from Peter. He is often identified with the John, surnamed Mark that accompanied Paul and Barnabas in the first journey of Paul, but was left behind (and Barnabas stayed too) for the second, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. He is also the first Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria, Egypt.
Life of Mark
The New Testament sources for the life of John Mark are slender and need interpreting. The John Mark in Acts (xii, 12, 25; xv, 37) mentioned as John (xiii, 5, 13) and as Mark (xv, 39) is surely the Mark mentioned by Paul (Colossians., iv, 10; II Tim., iv, 11; Philem., 24) and by Peter in I Peter , v, 13. Mark of the Pauline Epistles was the cousin (anepsios) of Barnabas (Colossians., iv, 10), to whom Mark of Acts seems to have been bound by some special tie (Acts, xv, 37, 39). Mark's mother was a prominent member of the earliest group of Christians in Jerusalem; it was to her house that Peter turned on his release from prison; the house was approached by a porch (pulon), there was a slave girl (paidiske) to open the door, and the house was a meeting-place for the brethren, "many" of whom were praying there the night St. Peter arrived from prison (Acts, xii, 12-13).
(text based on N.T. sources)
A further report of Mark as the amanuensis of Peter and the Secret Gospel of Mark is given in a letter of Clement of Alexandria (died ca 211 - 216), transcribed into a printed book in the monastery of Mar Saba, south of Jerusalem. In it Clement states
- ""As for Mark, then, during Peter's stay in Rome he wrote an account of the Lord's doings, not, however, declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting what he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed. But when Peter died a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing both his own notes and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former book the things suitable to whatever makes for progress toward knowledge. Thus he composed a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected. Nevertheless, he yet did not divulge the things not to be uttered, nor did he write down the hierophantic teaching of the Lord, but to the stories already written he added yet others and, moreover, brought in certain sayings of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystagogue, lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of that truth hidden by seven veils. Thus, in sum, he prepared matters, neither grudgingly nor incautiously, in my opinion, and, dying, he left his composition to the church in Alexandria, where it even yet is most carefully guarded, being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries."
An extensive and satisfyingly circumstantial account of Mark's life was written by Severus, Bishop of Al-Ushmunain , in the 10th century. According to this account, Mark was the nephew of Barnabas, who was cousin to Peter's wife. Mark was one of the servants at the wedding feast at Cana who poured out the water that Jesus Christ turned to wine. This is Jesus' first public miracle, however it is not related in the Gospel of Mark. Mark was one of the Seventy Apostles sent out by Christ; he was the servant who carried water to the house of Simon the Cyrenian, where the Last Supper took place; and Mark was the one who hosted the disciples in his house after the death of Jesus, and into whose house the resurrected Jesus Christ came, although all the doors were shut.
The following details are also based on Severus' account, and need corroboration before they are accepted as more than 10th century pious legend: He eventually went to Alexandria and was the first to preach the Gospel there. He is said to have performed many miracles, and established a church there, appointing a bishop, three priests, and seven deacons.
Mark is considered by this writer to have founded the School of Alexandria , a school that encouraged studies in science, philosophy, music, math and language embraced by the early Copts, who believe such disciplines are not contrary to religion, but lead believers to a true spiritual life. The pagan Library and Musaeum are ignored.
When Mark returned to Alexandria, the people there are said to have resented his efforts to turn them away from the worship of their traditional Egyptian gods. In 68 A.D. they killed him, and tried to burn his body. Afterwards, the Christians in Alexandria removed his unburned body from the ashes, wrapped it and then buried it in the easterly part of the church they had built. His remains were later stolen and taken to Venice. They were not returned to Egypt until 1968.
It should be noted that Severus' account is not entirely reconcilable with the first accounts we have of St. Mark. Papias says that he was a disciple of Peter and never knew Jesus himself. Papias says Mark wrote down the stories Peter told, but not necessarily in chronological order. It is unlikely that the early church would remember a story which made the authorship of Mark's Gospel seem less authoritative than it was.
Representations in Western art
Mark is frequently depicted in Western art, especially Renaissance art. Like the other 3 evangelists, he is often shown holding a book, but his special attribute is the winged lion. As the patron saint of Venice, he was a particular favorite of Venetian artists and their patrons, and paintings of his life and miracles are a feature of some of the greatest Venetian art.
His lion is ubiquitous throughout Venice.
- Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908:""Mark"