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Remembering Westerdam’s Dedication Ceremony

Paul Allen sent us this nostalgic look back at the unique dedication ceremony of Westerdam a few years ago:

The Westerdam was “born” in Venice, as were many of the other Holland America Line ships. Thirteen of the 14 HAL ships have been built at the Fincantieri Shipyard at Marghera, just across the lagoon on the Italian mainland. One of the most distinctive aspects of the birthday of the Westerdam, on April 25, 2004, was that it was on St. Mark’s feast day, the anniversary of his martyrdom.

St. Mark is one of the most important figures in biblical and Venetian history. It is not confirmed if he actually accompanied Jesus during his ministry. However, he was a very close associate of Peter and Paul. As one of the four principle apostles, his gospel is thought by some to be the memoirs of Peter. He traveled extensively with Paul, finally returning to Alexandria, where he is considered to have been the first Christian bishop. Unfortunately, the Egyptians ultimately turned on him and he suffered a rather grim fate somewhere around 63-65 CE.

In the year 828, two Venetian merchants smuggled some relics reputed to be the body of St. Mark from Alexandria to the relatively new community of Venice. The body was hidden in a basket covered with pork, to protect it from Muslim inspectors. The episode is memorialized in a mosaic series on the lower facade of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, to the right of the front door. There appears to be a mild historic controversy here, as the mosaics portray the body intact. However, the St. Mark Coptic Cathedral in Alexandria still claims to have the head! Such is the indignity suffered by relics!

As relics go, the body of an Apostle is a pretty big deal. It’s like having a name attraction for religious pilgrims, which brings tourist dollars to the city. So, though St. Roche is officially the patron saint of Venice, it is St. Mark who has always been the big draw. His famous cathedral and square were referred to by Napoleon as the “drawing room of Europe.”

When the Westerdam was inaugurated on April 25, 2004, some of the participants in the St. Mark’s feast day celebration made an appearance. The costumes were breathtaking and elaborate.

First, we had the winged lion of St. Mark.

Then the Doge and Dogaressa of Venice (roughly translated as duke and duchess), and ladies and gentlemen of their court.

There were heralds and street performers.

Fantastic costumed personages paraded by.

If you look closely, you will see the four seasons among the eight decorous characters.

Finally, the Lion and the Doge lined up in front of the ship. Then the bell was blessed, the champagne bottle was smashed, and the Westerdam was launched!

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