The flight to Europe was a hard one, but I had wonderful seatmates for part of it, Leslie and Steve from the Seattle area who were headed to Greece, we chatted throughout the flight across the country and that made the time fly by, then on my flight from London to Milan I had an entire row of seats to myself so I laid down and slept for part of the trip. Still, I was tired and confused when I got to Milan, we flew into the smallest airport with the worst service I’ve ever seen. We couldn’t even enter the building or go to the restroom until we went through customs. There were two lines for citizens and one line for non-citizens. Both lines didn’t move for nearly an hour, then the citizen lines started moving and quickly emptied out, while the non-citizen line didn’t move, we had been standing in this cramped little out-building for nearly two hours. There was a group of people from Romania at the front of the line and it was clear the police didn’t want to let them through, I don’t know why they didn’t tell them to step aside so others could go. Once the citizen line was empty, I opened the rope and went to the citizen line & got my passport stamped. As I was leaving the area to go into the building I looked back and everyone was still standing in that same line, one man had gone to the citizen line and was yelling about the mistreatment of Romanians as I closed the door and walked away. Then, it took a while to find a taxi and when I did, I was astonished to learn that my hotel was miles outside of the city center, I had booked based on price, not on distance so I paid more in taxi cost than I would have paid if I had rented a closer room. Lesson learned, once I finally got checked into my hotel, all the cafes and bars and other food purveyors were closed, there was nowhere to get anything to eat, I was grateful for the protein bars in my carryon bag. The next morning was an adventure, I had to find the bus stop; the concierge gave me a map and said go that way. Unfortunately, tourist maps don’t have every street and many streets aren’t marked, after making a wrong turn and backtracking and walking a couple of miles, I found the Metro, or subway, but I didn’t find the train which I would have preferred. Then, I had to find out how to buy a ticket and how to find my bus. It was very confusing, everything seemed to buzz around me so quickly that it was hard to think but I found some incredibly nice people, it’s no exaggeration that Italians are the friendliest and kindest people you could meet. I had to change buses once, so I had to repeat the whole process of asking for help and having people pantomime what I should do; I somehow got the right buses and arrived in Milan in time for the 8:30 Mass. The space for worshippers has, I believe, the most beautiful art. I didn’t know that taking pictures was not allowed so I got these two before a policeman stopped me. I think the soft marble makes the Madonna seem to glow.
Aside from elite couture, Milan is best known for Mary of the Nativity or, as everyone calls it, The Duomo, “duomo” means cathedral; that’s why many major cities have “duomos” not to be mistaken for “domes”. The Milan cathedral is the fourth largest church in Europe after the Vatican’s, London’s, and Sevilla’s. Although it was begun during the Renaissance, it was built in the older gothic style, so this cathedral is a forest of gothic towers, spires and statues, it took over 600 years to build, it began in 1386 and construction and repairs go on continuously.
It dominates the piazza and people line up for hours in order to walk around inside
We had Mass in a small chapel that was tucked away behind the main cathedral altar, I was intimidated to sneak through a hidden door and up a narrow flight of stairs into what appeared to be a forbidden space. But, a woman who was coming to worship indicated it was okay for me to go forward. The space was small, but the art and antiquities were captivating. Mass was celebrated by two ancient priests, one of whom could barely move around. I wonder how many elderly priests are still working because they love to do it or if they are still working because there is a shortage of younger priests.
I later toured the cathedral with the tour guide who led the Last Supper tour. The cathedral has 3,400 statues, 135 gargoyles and 700 figures; it has many pillars, each with a capitol adorned by statues, the concept is to have a huge procession of saints coming into the sanctuary for the celebration of the Mass. But, the statues aren’t all saints, there are some statues of people who helped finance the construction of the cathedral and were rewarded with a statue on one of the pillars.
Here are some pictures of the cathedral:
Notice the red light in the cross at the top of this picture, the red light indicates a nail believed to be one of the nails used in the crucifixion of Jesus.
Saint Bartholomew was martyred by being skinned alive, here the artist, Marco d’Agrate, depicts him holding his skin as if it were a cloak.
From this angle, you can see the skin and hair from his face hanging over his back.
Our guide took us to the rooftop of this amazing building where we wandered among a forest of spires, bulwarks, statues and gargoyles.
Gargoyles function as water spouts.
St Mary of the Nativity in gold plate on top of the highest spire. There is a law in Milan that no building can be higher than St Mary, which was no problem until the skyscraper was invented; when the first skyscraper was built the Bishop of Milan was outraged that the building was taller than St Mary, so the architect solved the problem by placing a small golden statue of Mary at the top of the skyscraper. To this date, every time a skyscraper is built that is taller than the last tallest building, a small golden statue of Mary is placed on the roof.
The cathedral is under perpetual construction, it will never truly be finished. It was originally built during a time when Milan was at war with Florence, the fine Carrera marble used in most of the statues and buildings we see in Italy are made from Carrera marble from quarries near Florence. Milan officials refused to purchase marble from their enemies so they used a softer, chalky, local marble. As a result, the statues, towers, spires and gargoyles are constantly eroding and need to be replaced. Therefore, there are statues and carvings throughout the building representing various generations, Napoleon had a statue of “Saint Napoleon” installed in the sanctuary but it has since moved to the neighboring museum. There are tennis rackets, boxing gloves and boxing gargoyles from the time Milan boasted its first world class boxer, there’s a Darth Vader gargoyle.
During the war, Mussolini insisted on being represented, so here are two carvings of Mussolini with a bust of Pope Pius XI sandwiched between them. Both were in office during the war so it seemed fitting to display them together.
Like all great sights, one needs to visit to take in the size, the majesty and the grandeur of it all. The Milan Duomo is unique in so many ways, but even with Napoleons, Mussolinis and Darth Vaders, it faithfully maintains its purpose to celebrate and glorify God and Jesus Christ. The art, the statues, the grandeur, size and beauty are there to draw us close to God, to remind us that He is greater and more wonderful than we can imagine. We often want to tame Jesus or make him small, the Milan Cathedral reminds us that He really is greater and more magnificent than we can ever imagine.