Reanimating the power of holy protectors: Merchants and their saints in the visual culture of medieval and early modern venice

Karen Rose Mathews

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Venice’s close relationship with its saintly patrons began already in the ninth century when Mark’s relics arrived from Alexandria and the evangelist supplanted Theodore as the city’s holy protector. Merchants played a central role in establishing and promoting Mark’s cult in Venice, as they were responsible for the appropriation of the saint’s relics from Egypt in 827. From that time forward, various merchant constituencies employed the cult of saints to define their role in Venetian society as well as their relationship with political and commercial allies and rivals across the Mediterranean. Relics flowed into Venice in unprecedented numbers throughout the medieval and early modern periods, purchased, plundered, or stolen by Venetian merchant warriors as they traversed the sea. Though Venice’s merchants had myriad saints from which to select their holy protectors, they chose to rediscover and repurpose old saints rather than develop new cults. This privileging of continuity over novelty has been overlooked, as the medieval and early modern hagiographic traditions in Venice are rarely studied in tandem. In this chapter, I will focus on three saints – Mark, Isidore, and George – whose cults were periodically resuscitated by various merchant groups from the ninth to the sixteenth century. Analyzing merchant devotion through this extended chronological overview will demonstrate how disparate social groups and institutions could associate themselves with venerable saints that possessed longstanding cults in the city while redefining the holy protector’s power to serve the particular objectives of noble, citizen, and foreign traders in Venice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSaints as Intercessors between the Wealthy and the Divine
Subtitle of host publicationArt and Hagiography among the Medieval Merchant Classes
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages33
ISBN (Electronic)9781351171359
ISBN (Print)9780815399803
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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