Catholic Classroom: St. Mark the Lion
If you have ever seen images of winged lions associated with St. Mark, whose feast day is April 25, you may have wondered why this creature represents the evangelist. The association with the lion is quite strong—not only does the winged animal represent St. Mark, but it also is the symbol of the city of Venice, where it is believed that St. Mark’s remains now rest. This tradition of symbolism actually has its roots in scripture and sacred art.
In the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, the prophet describes a vision of four winged creatures with four faces: “As for the appearance of their faces: the four had the face of a human being, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle” (Ezekiel 1:10). Traditionally, each of the four faces is said to represent one of the four evangelists:
- St. Matthew – the human
- St. Mark – the lion
- St. Luke – the ox
- St. John – the eagle
Each evangelist is associated with the particular face because of the way he begins his gospel. In St. Mark’s case, he begins his gospel with John the Baptist’s call to repentance. He introduces the story of Jesus with a reference to Isaiah’s prophecy: “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”’” (Mark 1:2-3).
St. Mark describes John the Baptist as fulfilling this prophecy: “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). Scholars and artists have compared this fearless proclamation to the roar of the lion, leading to the symbolism with St. Mark that we recognize today.
The winged lion is a beautiful representation of this bold evangelist, who was martyred for Christ in Alexandria, Egypt. We pray today that we might imitate St. Mark’s loving, fearless faith in our own witness to Christ.