La leggenda del bòcolo di San Marco, or the legend of the rosebud of St Mark’s, is a little known Venetian tradition that sees men giving their beloveds a red rosebud as a sign of their true love on April 25th.
Legend tells that in the second half of the 8th century Maria, the daughter of Doge Orso I Participazio, fell in love with a handsome young man of humble birth called Tancredi.
Her father, the Doge or President of the Venetian Republic, was distinctly unhappy that his daughter had fallen in love with a man below her station and forbade them to marry. And according to one variation of the legend the Doge, hoping to rid himself of what he saw as a bad love match, then arranged to have the lad sent to Spain to fight the Turks.
An alternative version tells that in order to prove his worthiness and courage, Maria asked her lover to join the army of Carlo Magno, Charlemagne King of the Francs, to help fight the Turks and Arabs in Spain. She hoped that if Tancredi returned in glory as a hero her father would recognise the chap’s sincerity and finally give his approval. Ah, young love, eh?!
Sure enough Tancredi fought valiantly and so greatly distinguished himself in battle that his glorious story became famous around the known world.
Sadly, however, as with many love stories, our hero was mortally injured in battle by an enemy soldier and fell dying into a rosebush.
As he drew his final breaths Tancredi entrusted his friend Orlando, another hero of Charlemagne’s army, with a rosebud coloured with the red of his blood and tasked him with delivering it to his beloved Maria as a pledge of true and ever-lasting love. Orlando, hero of the famous battle of Roncisvalle in 778 AD, and a group of French knights dutifully set off to Venice to find Maria.
Poor Maria was heartbroken and rendered entirely mute in her grief.
But as if the death of the heroic Tancredi wasn’t tragic enough, April 25th actually commemorates the death of Maria who was found dead, lying on her bed, the day after Orlando delivered the news of her lover’s death. Tancredi’s bloodied pledge lay on her breast in eternal love.
And ever since that day April 25th, which also marks the Festa of San Marco or St Mark’s Day celebrating the patron saint of the city, has seen Venetians honouring their lovers, partners, mothers and daughters with un bòcolo di rosa rosso (Venetian dialect for a red rosebud or un bocciolo di rosa in Italian) to express their true love in the same way as Tancredi did.
So, if you happen to be in St Mark’s, Venice, or anywhere else around the world for that matter, maybe today is the day to present your lover with a red rosebud, although you don’t need to cover it in blood these days(!), and tell her how much you love her. Please leave me a comment to let me know the most romantic thing a lover has ever done for you. And spare a thought for the poor lovers who fell in love in Venice. If ever there was a place for romance and romantics, Venice is most certainly it, but sadly the course of true love doesn’t always run true!