The Apostle, evangelist, and saint. According to the Coptic tradition, St. Mark is the founder of the Coptic Church in Egypt. This tradition is supported by the testimony of Eusebius of Caesarea in his Church History. A Coptic manuscript preserved in Paris contains a detailed story of St. Mark. This manuscript was copied in the 11th century but reflects an ancient tradition. This manuscript contains a description of St. Mark: “Tall in his appearance, his nose was long, his speech was obvious, and his beard was long and thick. He became grey haired.”
In the sixth or early seventh centuries, John, Bishop of Ashmunein, delivered a homily on the life of St. Mark, where he accumulated the different traditions concerning St. Mark at that time. According to these traditions, St. Mark, originally from Pentapolis, returned to Palestine, where he met Christ and became one of his 70 disciples. He came to Egypt where he preached the good news.
He traveled also to Cyprus and then to Rome, where he met Peter and Paul. He suffered martyrdom in Alexandria in an insurrection of the pagans.
St. Mark’s relics remained in Alexandria until the Venetians took them in the ninth century. According to Coptic tradition, his head remained in Alexandria. It played an important role for the consecration of the patriarchs of Alexandria. The name of St. Mark is mentioned in all the Coptic liturgical books. In the absolution of the ministers, his name appears after the 12 Apostles. In the commemoration of the saints in the anaphora, his name follows those of the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, and St. Stephen the protomartyr.
In the 20th century Cyril VI, the 116th patriarch of Alexandria, requested from Paul VI, Pope of Rome, the return to the Coptic Church of the relics of St. Mark, which reposed in the Cathedral of St. Mark in Venice. The request was accepted and part of the relics of St. Mark was received by a Coptic delegation.
The relics are preserved under the altar of the Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo, where a wall painting in neo-Coptic style, executed by Isaac Fanous, narrates the story of the martyrdom of the saint as well as the return of the relics to Egypt in 1968. One of the most beautiful icons in the Coptic Museum is the icon of St. Mark with a severed head, dating to the 15th century.