Saint Mark

I am relieved to step out into the cool night air.

Alas, I am not yet headed back to the hotel and my little perch high above the Nile. Instead, we are lead to a small modern chapel devoted to Saint Mark.

Our translator, Osama, is trying to teach us more Coptic history. He is enthusiastic about his subject and launches into a long tale about the life and death of Saint Mark and the subsequent argument over his relics (which were stolen around year 800 and ended up in the possession of my old friends the Venetians, before being returned about the time this new Cathedral was constructed). Despite the warm light, the lively icons, and Osama’s animated telling of it, the story seems dry and totally, completely, irrelevant to my life.

Back outside, Osama leads us to an open space underneath the Cathedral. Here he shows us something (another reliquary?) built into the wall. His story about it is long and rather confusing. I don’t understand – are the saint’s relics here, rather than in the lovely little chapel? Why? Actually, why is anything of importance kept here, in what is basically a cold, damp, open basement?

But here, in this seemingly leftover space I start to feel some of the intimacy, the immediacy, of what has been (to me) a dusty ancient tale. To Osama and other believers here, Saint Mark didn’t live in a distant place or even, by Egyptian standards, in a distant time. Like Christ himself, Mark is not an ancient mythical figure, but a real person whose life – and death – still matter.

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1 thought on “Saint Mark”

  1. A little research informs me that the relics stored under the Cathedral are those of Pope Athanasius. It is somehow sadly fitting that some of the relics of this man are stored in this seemingly temporary space, as this great leader spent most of his life alternating between his home in Alexandria and exile in various locations. Now it seems that even his remains have not found a true home.

    Lots of information can be found on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athanasius_of_Alexandria
    which says that even the Lutherans regard him as a great leader!

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