Milan Cathedral is grand and imposing, an architectural marvel:
Milan Cathedral – “So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful…” That was how Mark Twain described the Duomo in his travel book “Innocents Abroad”. The cathedral (Duomo di Milano) is one of the top attractions of Milan city. If you discount St Peter’s Basilica, which is in the Vatican City, this Gothic cathedral is the largest church in Italy. It is also the third largest in the world.
An Architectural Marvel
Milan Duomo is an architectural marvel. With its 135 spires and rich decorations, this white marble monument dominates Piazza del Duomo and is grand and imposing. Construction began in 1386 and it took six centuries to complete. Mark Twain was a great fan of Milan Cathedral and he dedicated a whole chapter to it in his “Innocents Abroad”. Oscar Wilde on the other hand was not impressed by the Duomo. In a letter to his mother he described the cathedral as an awful failure. “Outside the design is monstrous and inartistic. The over-elaborated details stuck high up where no one can see them; everything is vile in it; it is, however, imposing and gigantic as a failure, through its great size and elaborate execution.”
Lots to see Inside Milan Cathedral
Notwithstanding the opinion of Oscar Wilde, about 5 million people visit the cathedral every year. There is plenty to see at the cathedral.
The numerous panels of stained glass windows are exquisite especially when the light shines through them. More than just a work of beauty, the images on the panes provide visual accounts of biblical teachings and events. It’s amazing that during the war they were able to take down the stained glass and store them in the Crypt for protection.
In the Duomo’s central nave is the golden statue of the Madonnina of the Duomo di Milano. This is a scale replica of the statue that was placed 108.5m high, on top of the main spire, in 1774. The Madonnina is said to protect everyone who sets eyes on her. As such, in 2015, a copy was placed at ground level so that the faithful and all visitors can get close to this symbol of protection.
The Milanese also have a practical use for the statue – as a gauge as to whether the weather is fair. Milan’s weather is notoriously damp and foggy and the Madonnina is often covered by mist. On days when the statue is visible it is considered a fair day.
Approximately 3,400 statues decorate the cathedral, 1,100 of which are on the inside and 2,300 outside. Typical of cathedrals, the statues portray images of prophets, martyrs and saints. One of the spire statues is rather interesting. When he was about to be crowned as King of Italy in 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the cathedral’s facade to be completed. He gave assurance that expenses would be reimbursed from the French treasury. It is said that as a mark of gratitude an imaginary “Saint Napoleon” was placed on top of one of the spires. Unfortunately for the Italians, the reimbursement was never paid.
At the left of the altar stands the most famous statue of all in the Cathedral, the Saint Bartholomew Flayed by Marco d’Agrate. This rather confronting statue shows the saint with his flayed skin draped over his shoulders. St Bartholomew is accredited with having brought Christianity to Armenia. According to legends, he was flayed alive in Armenia and then crucified upside down. Yikes!
We normally would have climbed to the roof of the Duomo for its views and to see the spires and sculptures. Because the sun was shining in the wrong direction, we gave the climb a miss and that was probably a mistake!
Piazza del Duomo