A to Z of Cathedrals – M is for Milan

“What a wonder it is!  So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems …a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!…”, Mark Twain – ‘The Innocents Abroad’

I have made no secret of the fact that I didn’t especially like Milan but I have to say that the Marble Gothic Cathedral is perhaps one of the most sublime and finest that I have ever seen in Italy. In design, more French than Italian perhaps. The location is magnificent with a wide open Piazza to the front and it rises dramatically upwards with spires like needles piecing the sky, each one decorated with a Saint or Apostle at the very top.

It is claimed there are more statues on this cathedral than any other building in the world; there are three thousand, four hundred statues, one hundred and thirty-five gargoyles and seven hundred figures. There are two hundred and forty steps to the top but that did not concern us, we had climbed nearly five hundred in Bologna so we ignored the extra charge for the lift and began the ascent.

Now this was really something really worth doing and well worth the admission charge. My first impression of the roof was that it resembles a petrified forest,  There was a lot of restoration work at the top but this didn’t interfere with the stunning views and the rooftop panorama of the city. We stayed up on the top for quite some time and after two circuits made our way down the steps and into the Cathedral which was equally impressive.

I will tell you two stories…

Above the apse there is a spot marked with a red light bulb. This marks the spot where one of the nails of Jesus’ crucifixion was allegedly placed. Once a year in September the archbishop of Milan ascends to the apex in a wooden basket decorated with angels to retrieve the nail.  The nail is displayed on the altar for three days and then put back again. You do have to wonder why?

Inside the Cathedral is a statue of the Apostle Saint Bartholomew who met an especially grisly end when he was skinned alive. Condemned to death he was flayed and the skin of his body cut into strips,then pulled off leaving his body open and bleeding for a long time, after that he was beheaded and then crucified just to make sure. I am prepared to be challenged on this point but I don’t believe that it would be possible to be skinned alive, I imagine you’d die of shock quite quickly.  The pain must have unimaginable, I know I call for a sticking plaster for just the tiniest of little skin-nicks!

We left the Cathedral and took the dreary walk back to the hotel. I still hadn’t warmed to Milan but the Cathedral helped redeem it a little.

Considering it is such a centre of high fashion, Milan is remarkably devoid of architectural beauty.  Milan is all about making money, it is in the blood and in the history” – Michael Palin, ‘Hemingway Adventures’.



29 responses to “A to Z of Cathedrals – M is for Milan

  1. That really is a wonderful cathedral and your enthusiasm for it shines throughout your account.
    In WW2 the RAF bombed northern Italy on several occasions and in Milan they made the cathedral the aiming point. A dreadful idea, no doubt, but it didn’t matter. For whatever reason, they never hit it.
    On a different subject, when the USSR fought in Afghanistan, captured soldiers were flayed alive on quite a few occasions, but they used to roll the skin up the body, i believe.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with you. Apart from the cathedral, the wonderful piazza and I suppose the malls leading off from the square, the only other spectacular place in Milan is the San Siro – not a stadium you should watch a game in if you suffer from vertigo. The Milan food was good though. We will however be back – we have an interesting trip planned for February which starts in Milan.


  3. I’d guessed M would be for Milan – a worthy choice. The daughter of a friend of mine has married a Man from Milan, and looking at photos, it seems there are quarters of the city with far more character than the soulless centre – but out of reach of pesky tourists, obviously.


  4. You see eye to eye with Mark Twain, then

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I skirted around the more gory story, but the nail was interesting, Andrew. The rooftop does look amazing.


  6. I was there on a business trip and not go in the Cathedral (Duomo) but is one of the great ones of Europe!


  7. It has always struck me as a souless city, but as a visitor, we don’t get to know the full story, probably.
    Seeing the Duomo and the Last Supper do remain precious memories from many years ago.


    • We skipped the last supper because…

      The Last Supper by Da Vinci isn’t the original.

      The work started around 1495 but due to the methods used, a variety of environmental factors and some intentional and accidental damage, nothing of the original remains.

      Because the painting was on a thin exterior wall it was affected badly by humidity and the paint failed to properly adhere and after it was completed it quickly began to deteriorate. By 1517 the paint was flaking, by 1532 it had lost most of its colour and detail. In 1652, a doorway was cut through the painting, and later bricked back up. In 1768, a curtain was hung over the painting for the purpose of protection but instead trapped moisture on the surface and whenever the curtain was pulled back it scratched the flaking paint.

      A first restoration was attempted in 1726 and a second in 1770 both were criticised for not faithfully reproducing the original. In 1796 French troops threw stones at the painting and climbed ladders to scratch out the Apostles’ eyes. The refectory was then later used as a prison. A repair project was attempted in 1820 but this only succeeding in damaging the work when a whole section fell off the wall.

      During World War II the refectory was struck by Allied bombing and the painting was damaged by splinters and vibration. Between 1978 and 1999 the most recent major restoration project undertook to stabilise the painting and reverse the damage caused by dirt and pollution.

      So this is my point, this is why I mention this here – it is possible to go to see the painting, a painting, but it isn’t by Leonardo Da Vinci that’s for sure so if it isn’t an original what is the point!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I rather like Milan but agree with you that the cathedral is magnificent.


  9. Being a city, we never stopped there. But, the cathedral might make it worthwhile.

    Don’t know when I’ll be back that way (or even if), but it’s something to keep in mind. Thanks.


  10. Now that is a spectacular cathedral! I love the perfect symmetry of it.


  11. I don’t remember places by their cathedrals and castles but by the people who were there that I met. like Crowland Donnington and the Fens.


  12. Quite a structure!


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