The church's Treasure is kept in the ancient rooms between the church
and the ducal palace, accessed by means of a door in the south transept
embellished with a 13th century mosaic which, in memory of the fire of
1231, depicts two angels bearing the reliquary of the Cross, miraculously
The small vestibule leads, on the left, to the sanctuary and, on the right,
to the actual Treasure. In eight niches in the sanctuary walls there are
numerous precious reliquaries containing the relics of saints that were
gathered from Constantinople to the Holy Land and from places outside
the eastern Mediterranean basin. The Treasure consists of an overall 283
pieces in gold, silver, glass and other precious materials.
The oldest nucleus is a part of the booty brought to Venice from Constantinople
between 1204 and 1261 after the Venetian conquest. For the most part they
are liturgical chalices, bowls and patens in semi-precious stone mounted
on Byzantine enamelled gold-work. It also includes two icons of the Archangel
Michael with enamelled frames. To these may be added late-antique vases
in glass and semi-precious stone and bowls of Islamic origin, all of great
interest. Lastly there is a nucleus of western objects, some of them Venetian
Other pieces - gifts from popes, European princes or the doges themselves
- were added subsequently.
When the Republic fell in 1797 part of the Treasure was pillaged. What
was saved was returned to the church in 1798, but between 1815 and 1819
precious stones and pearls were sold to pay for restorations.
The Treasure is divided into four sections:
- Objects from Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, including two beautiful
lamps in rock crystal sculpted in the form of fish and two amphorae with
handles in the form of animals, each one obtained from a single block
of precious oriental agate;
- Objects by Byzantine goldsmiths dating to the centuries around the year
1000: chalices and patens in semi-precious stone with mountings in gold
and silver ornamented with cloisonné enamels, also present in the two
portable icons with the image of the Archangel Michael.
?> - Objects of Islamic art (9th - 10th century): worthy of mention is the splendid
bowl in turquoise glass with stylised animals in relief and mounting in
gilded silver, set with semi-precious stones;
?> - Objects of western origin: including the famous perfume-brazier in the form
of a small building on a central plan with five cupolas, as well as many
other pieces in which filigree work is predominant.
?> Mention must also be made of the two altar-facings on the south wall: one (late
13th century) belonging to the church and dedicated to St. Mark, still
used today on the high altar for great celebrations, and the other (15th
century) a gift from pope Gregory XII, originating from the cathedral
of San Pietro di Castello.
The last precious item is the throne-reliquary of St. Mark in calcareous
alabaster. Of perhaps 6th century Alexandrian manufacture it came to Venice
from Grado whose patriarch, Primigenio, had received it as a gift from
the emperor Heraclius in 630. The symbols of the four evangelists are
clearly legible on the sides and, on the backrest, there is the lamb beneath
a tree from which flow the four rivers of paradise in accordance with
a vision of the Apocalypse.
The most significant pieces of the Treasure were exhibited on the altar
of St. Mark's during the main liturgical celebrations to elicit the admiration
of foreign embassies and visitors and to lend the impression of magnificence
to the cult of St. Mark.