St Mark, whose full name was ‘John Mark’, was the writer of one of the four gospels. Nevertheless, unless he was the young man who fled from the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:51), he’s not mentioned in any of them.
From the other books of the New Testament, however, we learn that his mother’s name was Mary and that he was from Jerusalem. His cousin was St Barnabas, a rich Jew who owned property in Cyprus. John Mark also seems to have come from a well-off background, since his mother had a large house and servants (Acts 12:12-25; Colossian 4:10).
He went with St Paul and St Barnabas on several missionary journeys, as an assistant. In later years, he moved to Rome, working there with both St Peter and St Paul (Acts 13:3-13; 15:36-39; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). St Peter seems to have been particularly close to him, viewing him as his spiritual “son” (1 Peter 5:13).
Reflecting this, St Mark’s gospel has traditionally been described as St Peter’s teaching in writing. Based on St Peter’s memories, it paints a detailed and intense picture of the life of Christ. As might be expected from an eyewitness, it gives specifics in terms of times, numbers and places (e.g. Mark 1:35; 4:35; 5:20; 7:40; 8:10; 11:11).
St Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four and was written for the Christians at Rome. For their benefit, he used several Latin words and explained unfamiliar Jewish customs to them (Mark 7:3; 12:42; 14:12; 15:16,42).
He seems to have had several main aims in writing his gospel. One was the hope that the reader would draw the same conclusion as the centurion at the foot of the cross: “Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39). To emphasise this, he focuses on the many miracles performed by Christ.
But St Mark was also keen to show that Christ was fully human – the “Son of Man.” So he included many details not found in the other gospels about how Christ felt sorry for people (1:41), got angry (3:5), felt disappointed (8:12), became annoyed (10:14) and even expressed his love (10:21).
This beautiful mosaic of St Mark the Evangelist is found high within the dome of the Oratory Church of the Immaculate Conception, in Edgbaston. It was possibly designed around 1913-14 by Nathaniel Westlake and is one of a set of the Four Evangelists. Like other mosaics in the church, it’s likely that Venetian craftsmen were involved in its execution.
In the mosaic, a barefoot St Mark is pictured holding a book and a quill, in the act of writing his gospel. Behind him is a lion, which is his traditional symbol. The image of a lion is drawn from Revelation 4:7, with each of the four animals representing one of the Four Evangelists. Curiously, unlike the other three evangelists in the set, in this scene St Mark appears to be left-handed.
See the full image:
Where to find this work of art
The Oratory Church of the Immaculate Conception, Edgbaston
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