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New Moon’s St Marcus Day – Is It Real?
In the movie The Twilight Saga: The New Moon, Bella arrives in Volterra, Italy just in time to stop Edward from revealing himself as a vampire to a mob of mortals during the St. Mark’s Festival on March 19. Festival participants, dressed in red hooded robes, march in a procession carrying a statue of St. Mark to the church in the town center. In the Dusk world, “St. Marcus” is celebrated by mortals for ridding the city of vampires, when he was, in fact, a vampire himself. Volterra is the home of the Volturri, the lawmakers of the vampire world. Marcus is one of them. Some Dusk fans wear red on March 19 to mark the holiday.
New Moon Author Stephanie Meyer borrowed the fictional St. Mark’s Day from the real European St. Mark’s Day celebration. She changed the date: Saint Mark’s Day is April 25. Since the date coincides with the celebrations of Easter (a moveable holiday; the date varies, but it usually occurs in March or April) and a number of other Eurasian spring festivals, it is believed that the day of Saint -Mark is a Christianized version of an older pagan observance. In the book Ostara, Edain McCoy writes: “As was done with many pagan festivals in Europe, the early church attempted to refocus the symbolism of Ostara [the spring festival for Germanic Pagans] on the feast day of Saint Mark. Instead of being a feast of rebirth, the imagery of St. Mark was focused on 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 be the companion of Saint Paul, the great Christian evangelist of early times, whom the Book of Acts of the Apostles calls “John Mark”. A disciple of Paul, Mark is said to have used Paul’s preaching as the basis of the Gospel. He is also known as the founder of the Coptic Church. Coptic tradition holds that Mark appears in the Gospels as the young man who carried water home where the Last Supper of Jesus and his apostles took place, as the young man who fled naked when Jesus was arrested, and having poured out the water Jesus turned into wine at the wedding in Cana.
Mark is said to have been martyred on April 25, 68 in Alexandria, Egypt. A group of local people resented his attempt to turn them away from their traditional gods. They put a rope around his neck and dragged him through the streets until he was dead. Its main sanctuaries are in Egypt and Italy. His Italian sanctuary is the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, which is traditionally believed to be the place where Mark’s remains are buried. So he really has a connection with Italy, but not specifically with the city of Volterra.
Perhaps because of his martyrdom, many curious traditions have developed over the centuries about celebrating the feast of St. Mark. In 17th to 19th century England, particularly in the north and west, folklore held that the specters of those who died the following year made a procession, in the order of their death, through the graveyard and in the church at midnight on St. Mark’s Eve. Some said the procession would be coffins, or headless or rotting corpses. Others said that the procession would be made up of identifiable, ghost-like specters, and one could sit and watch the procession pass and thus know who was going to die.
To see these spectra, according to folklore, you had to be fasting. Another legend said that one had to be present at the cemetery on St. Mark’s Eve for three consecutive years, and it was only in the third year that one would see the ghosts. Sometimes these living observers would see their own specters and die soon after. Another superstition regarding St. Mark’s Day is that on this night witches who had sold their souls to the devil (or written their name in the devil’s book) and wished to retain their supernatural powers had to walk around the church backwards, peeking through the keyhole and reciting certain words, otherwise their powers would be lost.
Another traditional St. Mark’s Day activity was to stir the ashes from the hearth. If the ashes were shaped like a shoe, someone who lived in the house would die within a year.
St. Mark’s Eve was one of three nights of the year associated with the dead. The others are St. John’s Eve and All Hallow’s Eve. According to some legends, during these three nights, those who died can come back to earth as spirits. This belief about All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) is a Christian appropriation of the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain, the time when the veil between the living and the dead was thinnest, and also the halfway point between the fall and winter. Likewise, Saint Mark marks the halfway point between spring and summer and is associated with the pagan festival of Ostara. Midsummer Eve, traditionally celebrated on June 23, is associated with the pagan feast of St. John, or summer solstice.
However, not all legends associated with Saint Mark are associated with death. The night was also when the young women tried to guess who their future companions would be. There were several ways to do this: by picking twelve sage leaves at midnight, by walking around a haystack nine times while reciting: “Here is the scabbard, now where is the knife? or baking a dumb cake, eating a piece of cake, then walking backwards to the 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 the man she would one day marry or have a fleeting glimpse of him. However, if she went to bed without seeing such a shadow and dreamed of a newly dug grave, it meant that she would die unmarried.
These are largely English customs, however. In Italy, if Saint Mark’s Day is celebrated, it is by feasting, drinking and/or offering bread to the less fortunate. The custom of wearing red and having a procession seems to be the invention of Stephanie Meyer.
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