The Winged Lion of Saint Mark: Symbol of Venice’s Glory Tours

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Venice is a unique city in the world, famous for its canals, bridges, and fascinating architecture. The strength and prestige it acquired over its glorious centuries of history are all encapsulated in the city’s emblem, which stands above all else and represents the very essence of the Serenissima Republic of Venice: the winged lion of Saint Mark. This iconic symbol is omnipresent throughout the city, from flags to monuments, from crests to sculptures. But why did the lion become the symbol of Venice? In this article, we will explore the origins, meanings, and evolution of this fascinating symbol.

The Origins of the Lion of Saint Mark

The winged lion of Saint Mark has deep roots in history and mythology. Saint Mark the Evangelist, one of the four evangelists, is associated with the winged lion due to his Gospel, which begins with the description of Saint John the Baptist preaching in the desert, a scene reminiscent of a lion’s roar. In Christian tradition, the winged lion is one of the four living creatures mentioned in the Book of Revelation and the Book of Ezekiel, where it represents Saint Mark.
Legend has it that Saint Mark, during a journey to Venice, had a vision in which an angel told him that there he would find his final resting place. When the relics of Saint Mark were brought to Venice from Alexandria in 828 AD, the Venetians adopted the winged lion as the symbol of the saint and, by extension, of the city itself.

Symbolism of the Winged Lion

The winged lion of Saint Mark is not just a religious symbol but encompasses various meanings that reflect the values of the Republic of Venice:

  1. Power and Authority: As the king of animals, the lion represents strength and dominion. For Venice, which was a powerful maritime republic, the lion symbolized its authority and influence.
  2. Wisdom and Justice: The wings of the winged lion connect it to angels and the divine, representing wisdom and justice. Venice saw itself as a city guided by these principles.
  3. Faith and Protection: Being the symbol of Saint Mark, the winged lion also represents divine protection. The Venetians believed that Saint Mark protected the city, and the winged lion was a sign of this protection.

Iconography of the Lion of Saint Mark

The lion of Saint Mark is depicted in various forms, each with a specific meaning:

  • Lion Andante: A standing lion with one paw raised over an open book, representing sovereignty and justice. The open book usually bears the inscription “Pax tibi Marce, Evangelista meus” (Peace to you, Mark, my Evangelist).
  • Lion in Moleca: A seated lion with wings spread around its body, resembling the shape of a crab (in Venetian, “moleca”). This style was common on coins and seals.
  • Rampant Lion: A lion in an attacking position, often used on flags and military crests to symbolize strength and courage in battle.
  • Maritime Lion: A lion emerging from the sea waves, symbolizing Venice’s maritime power.

The Lion of Saint Mark in Venetian Culture

The winged lion of Saint Mark is an integral part of Venetian culture and identity. It can be found everywhere in the city: from the Basilica of Saint Mark, where it towers above the main entrance, to historic palaces, bridges, and even works of art.

During the period of the Republic of Venice, the winged lion was an official emblem appearing on coins, official documents, ships, and flags. Its presence constantly reminded citizens and visitors of the power and sanctity of the Serenissima.


The Lion of Saint Mark is much more than just a symbol. It is an emblem that encapsulates the history, values, and aspirations of Venice. It represents the fusion of temporal and spiritual power, wisdom, justice, and divine protection. Even today, the winged lion continues to be a symbol of pride and identity for Venetians and an icon recognized worldwide. Visiting Venice, it is impossible not to be struck by the majesty and presence of this ancient symbol, which continues to watch over the city as it has for centuries.