Venice and St Mark are so intwined that the saint’s image of a winged lion is just as likely to be thought of as emblematic of the city.
It wasn’t always so. Prior to the Venetian raid which supposedly brought the relics of St Mark to Venice in the late 9th Century, the patron saint was St Theodore, but as his status was trumped by the apostle he lost that prominence. I’d never heard of a saint of this name (though lets face it, in the realms of catholicism there’s a saint for most names) so I was surprised to learn that there may have been two; St Theodore of Amasea and St Theodore Stratelates. What’s more it’s by no means certain which was the Venetian choice!
The confusion is continued by the imagery of St Theo that can be found in the city. Within the Basilica San Marco (which subsumed the original church of St Theodore) there are several mosaic representations which don’t show him in military dress (suggesting Stratelates, as Amasea was a recruit in the Roman Army). Step outside St Mark’s and turn to the Piazetta and you see a very different image. The two columns are topped by representations of St Mark (the lion) and St Theodore (a soldier standing victorious over a slain beast).
The columns were erected in the 12th Century, but Theodore wasn’t in place for another couple of centuries, and in fact the present statue comes another 200 years after that; a statue comprised of fragments of other works joined to represent the saint. Unfortunately the defeat of a dragon that is part of Theodore’s legend is here represented by a crocodile! Perhaps it’s a third Theodore variant; St Theodore Dundee.