Milan – The cathedral in Milan; the Duomo

The Milan Cathedral, also called the Duomo, is located in the old city center of Milan. The area where the Duomo is now located was the religious heart of Milan in the 4th century. The cathedral is the third largest basilica in the world. When traveling to Milan, the Duomo is definitely worth a visit. Both the interior and the exterior show what architectural quality is and how religion is experienced. Until the 14th century, there used to be basilicas on the spot where the Cathedral is now located, including Santa Tecla and Santa Maria Maggiore. There used to be Christian baptisteries such as San Giovanni alle Fonti and Santo Stefano on this site. All these buildings have been demolished to make room for the new cathedral.

The construction and architecture of the Milan Cathedral

Construction of the Duomo began in 1386. Bishop Antonio da Saluzzo gave the order. The Duke Gian Galeazzo Visconti invited Lombard, French and German architects to supervise the work in Milan. The duke also wanted Candoglia marble to be used for the construction of the cathedral. Initially the cathedral was to be built of brick, but the duke ensured that real marble was used. All slabs of marble that would be used were marked with the letters AUF, which stood for ad usum fabricae. These letters ensured that no import duties had to be paid. In order to build the Duomo, the year 1390 was declared a Jubilee Year. The people of Milan were encouraged to contribute to the construction of the Cathedral by donating money or labor. The construction of the Cathedral took a very long time. Five centuries after construction started, the cathedral was finally finished. Because the cathedral has been worked on for several centuries, different architectural styles have changed over the centuries. A mixture of styles can be observed in the architecture of the Cathedral. The cathedral was consecrated in 1418, but the Duomo was not really finished until the time of Napoleon. Napoleon even had himself crowned King of Italy in the Cathedral of Milan. The mixture of architectural styles is clearly visible when you approach the Cathedral from the front. The facade has a Baroque appearance up to the first row of windows, while the cathedral has its origins in the Gothic period. If you look a little higher at the facade, you will also see the neo-Gothic pointed arch windows and pinnacles. The facade was not completed until the 19th century.

The interior of the Duomo

When entering the cathedral, you immediately notice the impressive interior. The high crossbow vaults stretch out before you as you enter the cathedral. You can count as many as 52 pillars under these vaults. These pillars represent the weeks of the year. The capitals on the pillars are again decorated with statues. These pillars also form the separation between the five naves that comprise the cathedral’s nave. A nice detail is the meridian that lies in the floor behind the facade. The astronomers of Brera installed this in the floor in 1786. A ray of sunlight tells the time around noon. The stained glass windows are also striking. The scenes depicted in the windows are from the Bible and many date from the 19th century. These stained glass windows are not that old! A scene that is old is the 5th window in the right aisle (walking from the facade into the church). This window dates from about 1470 and depicts the life of Christ. There is also a mosaic dedicated to the life of the Evangelist John (1477). The newest stained glass window dates from 1988. A number of windows show scenes from the Old Testament. These windows date back to the 16th century. The apse at the back of the church is illuminated by 3 large 19th century stained glass windows by the Bertini brothers. These windows depict scenes from the Old and New Testament and the Apocalypse. In the left transept (running from the facade into the church) you can see a 5 meter high candelabra; the Trivulzio candlestick. This is a 12th century masterpiece by Nicola da Verdun. He was a goldsmith. The candlestick is richly decorated with scenes from the Old Testament and the Three Wise Men on their way to an enthroned Mary. The arts, crafts and virtues are depicted on the pedestal in the form of fantastic figures. This candlestick is a beautiful example of medieval goldsmith’s art and was donated in 1562 by Gian Battisto Trivulzio. In the vault above the choir, a small red light indicates the location of a niche in which a horseshoe-shaped nail of Christ’s cross has been kept since 1461. This nail was previously kept in Santa Maria Maggiore. The nail was found by Saint Helena. She gave the nail back to her son Emperor Constantine. Later the nail was donated to Saint Ambrogio, who is also the patron saint of Milan. Every year on September 14, the nail is shown to the public. The Bishop of Milan is then raised to the level of the niche in which the nail lies on a kind of decorated balcony. The remains of the Santa Tecla Basilica can still be found in the crypt. There are also remains of the octagonal baptistery where Sant’Ambrogio is said to have baptized Saint Augustine in the year 387.

Beautiful view of the roof terrace of the Duomo

The interior of Milan Cathedral offers many beautiful things to see, but don’t miss a visit to the Cathedral without taking a look at the roof of the cathedral. The view over the city from the roof terraces is beautiful! You can also take a closer look at the central spire from the roof terrace. On this terrace you are, as it were, in a ‘forest’ of pinnacles, the oldest of which dates from 1404. NB! The final restoration work on the exterior of the Cathedral is currently underway. Only the bottom ‘floor’ is currently covered in scaffolding. Nevertheless, no reason not to visit Milan Cathedral. When you see the church from the square, you forget that the lower part is still covered in scaffolding. The rest of the Cathedral has now been beautifully renovated. Once again: a beautiful church that is definitely worth a visit!

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