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The legend of the Bocolo

The legend of the Bocolo

The legend of the Bocolo

Think Venice, think romance – think romance, think rose! And so it’s little wonder that the Venetians have a festival especially dedicated to both love and the bocolo, the red rose.

To celebrate the patron saint of Venice, St Mark, on 25 April Venetians celebrate the Festa del Bocolo in which men give women a single rosebud to show their love. Why 25 April, and why a rose? The roots of the festival are found in legend…

So the story goes, a young Venetian woman called Maria fell in love with a young man named Tancredi. But the two were divided by their social classes: she the daughter of a Doge, he just a commoner – a troubadour. Of course the Doge was unimpressed by Tancredi as a suitor, and so Maria suggested that Tancredi win her father’s approval by demonstrating his valour. Tancredi duly went to war, and he impressed his comrades with his courage. But alas! (No doubt you saw this coming…) He was slain.

As he lay dying, in a rose garden, Tancredi gave his friend Orlando a rose that bore his blood. Orlanda brought the stained rose to Maria as a symbol of Tancredi’s everlasting love for her. Beautiful! And yet, sadly, not the end of the tale… The next day, 25 April, Maria was found dead in her bed, the rose lying over her heart.

I have written before about the poetry of Lady Caroline Blanche Elizabeth Lindsay, who wrote a beautiful collection of poetry inspired by Venice in the nineteenth century. Here is her depiction of Maria and Tancredi’s tragic love story (Orlando is renamed Roland here). Oh that fair red rose of love!

 

The Legend of the “Bocolo”

 

There lived a high-born maid in ancient time,

Who loved a minstrel famed for song and rhyme.

( Venice was young.)

Because of him her dark eyes flashed and burned,

Because of her his heart in sorrow yearned.

(O fair red rose of Love!)

 

He was so lowly-born they might not wed —

“Seek then the King of France,” the maiden

said.

( Venice was young.)

“Earn thou a soldier’s glory in the field,

So may my father to our pleading yield.”

(O fair red rose of Love!)

 

Thus, at her bidding, went the troubadour,

Forthwith enrolled to fight the paynim Moor;

( Venice was young!)

And soon from France the praises of him rang —

Tancred, the warrior brave, who sweetly sang.

(O fair red rose of Love!)

 

Southward at last came bands from Charlemayne,

Led by the peerless Roland and his train,

( Venice was young!)

And he sought out the maid. With tears, he sighed :

“Tancred is dead; clasped in my arms he died.

(O fair red rose of Love!)

 

“He breathed thy name. A rose-tree nigh he fell,

And plucked this flower for her he loved so well.

(Venice was young.)

How blest art thou, by him held dear and true —

The noblest soul that Roland ever knew.”

(O fair red rose of Love!)

 

The maiden spake not. Cold and white as snow,

She wept no tear, she gave no sign of woe.

( Venice was young.)

The next day dawned (St Mark’s), in death she lay,

And on her heart was found the rose, they say.

(O fair red rose of Love!)

 

Since, on San Marco’s morn, each year again,

For memory of those hapless lovers twain,

( Venice was young.)

Venetian youths, their ardent hearts to show,

A rosebud on the maid they court bestow.

(O fair red rose of Love!)

 

If you’re interested in St Mark, patron saint of Venice, look for my blog later this week on him.

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