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Q and A with Fr John Flader: Was the last supper at St Mark’s house?

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According to tradition, St Mark's Chapel is the site of the home of St Mark's mother, Mary, the house where the Blessed Virgin Mary is claimed to have been baptised, and it is where the Last Supper took place. Photo: momo/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0
According to tradition, St Mark’s Chapel is the site of the home of St Mark’s mother, Mary, the house where the Blessed Virgin Mary is claimed to have been baptised, and it is where the Last Supper took place. Photo: momo/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0

Dear Father, I have read in different places that the Last Supper was celebrated in the house of St Mark and that his family also owned the Garden of Gethsemane. Is this true, and what do we know about this saint?

According to Coptic tradition, St Mark was originally from Cyrene, in modern-day Libya.

Mark the Evangelist is believed to be the same person as the John Mark mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. We read there that when St Peter was led out of prison by an angel, “He went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark” (Acts 12:12).

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An early Christian text says that this was the same house where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper, where the apostles took refuge after the crucifixion and Jesus appeared to them on the night of his resurrection, and where the Holy Spirit came down on the feast of Pentecost.

That it was Mark’s family that owned the Garden of Gethsemane is suggested by the fact that only Mark, probably writing about himself, records that when Jesus was apprehended there after the Last Supper, “A young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked” (Mk 15:51-52).

This does not prove that Mark’s family owned the garden, but it makes it at least plausible.

It seems that Mark was the cousin of St Barnabas, for St Paul writes to the Colossians from prison in Rome: “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, receive him), and Jesus who is called Justus” (Col 4:10; cf. Philemon 24).

Mark accompanied St Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey to Antioch and other cities in 44AD. When they reached Cyprus, the Acts record that “they had John to assist them” (Acts 13:5). From Cyprus they went to Perga in Pamphylia. “And John left them and returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13).

His departure caused St Paul to question whether Mark could be relied on in the future, and it led to a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas, with Paul refusing to take Mark with him on his second missionary journey to the churches of Cilicia and the rest of Asia Minor.

“And there arose a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed” (Acts 15:39-41).

According to Christian tradition, Mark was also very close to St Peter, who referred to him as “my son” (1 Pet 5:13). Mark, like Luke, was not one of the 12 apostles, but tradition has it that he accompanied St Peter on his travels and was his interpreter.

St Clement of Alexandria, St Irenaeus and Papias all mention this. The Church historian Eusebius of Caesarea records that St Peter, on his way to Rome, met Mark along the way and took him with him as a companion and interpreter.

Through their time together, Mark was able to write his Gospel based on the preaching of St Peter (cf. Church History, 15-16).

When St Paul arrived in Rome to appeal his case before Caesar around the year 62AD, Mark assisted him, as we saw in the quote from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, chapter 4.

Around the year 66, when Paul was in his second imprisonment in Rome and about to be put to death, he wrote to Timothy, who was in Ephesus: “Get Mark and bring him with you; for he is very useful in serving me” (2 Tim 4:11).

Eusebius (cf. Church History 2, 16) passes on the tradition that Mark founded the Church in Alexandria, Egypt, and was its first bishop. This is supported by the fact that the liturgy of that Church bears his name.

According to another ancient tradition, because Mark’s preaching turned the pagans away from the worship of their traditional gods, in AD68 they placed a rope around his neck and dragged him through the streets until he was dead.

St Mark’s feast day is celebrated on April 25 by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches as well as by the Church of England. In 825 his relics were transferred to Venice, which adopted him as patron and later erected the huge basilica dedicated to him.

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