Milan Cathedral (Italian: Duomo di Milano) is the cathedral of Milan. Dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente (Saint Mary Nascent), it is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan.
This cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete. It is the fifth largest cathedral in the world and the largest in the Italian state territory.
The book Cathedral cities of Europe, Gutenberg Project by W.W. Collins, R.I. (its a free download) describes the Milan Cathedral in this way:
WHEN the great wave of conquest which swept mid-Europe in the fifth century broke against the walls of Châlons-sur-Marne and the westward march of Attila and his Huns was checked, the defeated hordes of the East followed their chief across the Alps and invaded the plain that stretches away now, just as it did in those far-off days, to the sunny seas that beat against the southern slopes of the Apennines. In the centre of this plain stood Mediolanum, a city ranking second only to Rome, and her greatest colony in the Peninsula. So rich and prosperous a place became of necessity the object of attack, and the hosts that looked to "the Scourge of God" as leader, swept into and through the fair city, sacking it completely. Rebuilt, but once again undergoing the same fate at the hands of Frederick I. in 1162, there remain but a colonnade of sixteen Corinthian columns near the Porta Ticinese, a few tablets and fragments let into the walls of other gateways, and some relics in the museum, to tell of the past glories of Rome's great colony.Milan, as we know it now, is the centre of commercial Italy. Intersected by an excellent system of tramways, with beautiful public gardens and magnificent buildings, it is up to date in every way and stands quite apart from all the other cities with which this book is concerned. The one thing that, perhaps, above all others places it in this position is, however, no product of this commercial age, but its world-famous work of art, the great cathedral, through the lofty aisles of which still reverberates the grand music of the Ambrosian Ritual. The exterior of this immense church, next in Italy to St. Peter's in size, is adorned by a forest of spires, pinnacles, turrets and lace-like tracery. In the midst of all this rises the central tower with its airy spire, from the base of which on a clear day the snow-clad peaks of the Alps may be seen stretching miles on miles away, and bounding the whole of the northern horizon by a lovely dreamland of colour.Very few buildings compel one's admiration as this does, an admiration wrung in my case from a mind out of sympathy with everything that lacks the dignity of repose; but such is the effect obtained by hundreds of pinnacles and statues, by the turreted flying buttresses, by the filling of every available foot of space with ornament, that one cannot but appreciate the result of the skill and patience so truly Italian, which has carried out these infinite details and produced the great work that stands in the Piazza del Duomo. The present fabric, dedicated "Mariæ Nascenti," is the third cathedral built on the site: the first was destroyed by Attila in 452, and the second by Barbarossa in 1162. The foundation-stone was laid in 1387 by Gian' Galeazzo Visconti, who from a northern clime sought his architect, Heinrich Ahrler, of Gmünden. From that time down to the present day many have had a hand in its making, among them Bramante, Leonardo da Vinci, and Giulio Romano, and the wonder is that the great structure is not far more full of incongruities than it is. The whole exterior is built of white marble from the quarries of la Gandoglia on the Simplon Road, given by the founder for this purpose.
The façade rises with a course of open Gothic work to the gable above, and is divided into five sections which terminate in clusters of Gothic turrets surmounted by pinnacles and statues. The central doorway is surrounded by excellent Renaissance sculpture, the door itself being a magnificent piece of seventeenth-century bronze work. On each side are two more portals. The bases of the intervening buttresses contain splendid panels, and the Caryatides, which support the slender Gothic shafts right and left, by Rusca and Carabelli, are extremely good in pose and execution. The great façade designed by Pellegrini for S. Carlo Borromeo in 1560 was never carried out owing to the saint's death while Pellegrini was away in Spain working on the Escorial for Philip II. The east end is the oldest part of the building, and is almost entirely taken up by three grand Gothic windows. The east window, which is of most beautiful tracery, was executed from the designs of a Frenchman, Nicholas Bonaventure. Both the other windows are fine, but the upper portion or rose pattern, although in itself very delicate, appears "stuck in," and not part of the design; some of the glass in these is very rich in colour. The archivolts of the arches are filled with figures which follow the curve in a rather uncomfortable style, not only here but in every other window save the fine classical of the façade.
The interior is grand, and of immense height, albeit the vaulting with its admirably painted tracery is evidence of the great skill of the Italian at "faking." The mellow light from the amber coloured glass of the octagon and the twilight filtering through the gorgeous hues of the other windows is remarkably and impressively pleasing. The columns of the nave, in clusters of eight shafts, are eighty feet high, and carry narrow capitals of foliage which form the base to eight canopied niches occupied by figures of saints—a fine feature. The aisles are double, the outside being lower than that next the nave. The four columns at the crossing which support the octagon are of larger dimensions than those in the nave. Two semicircular pulpits covered with bas-reliefs of gilded bronze stand on either side of the steps leading into the choir, to the solemn darkness of which the shadows thrown from the sounding-boards above make pictorially a good foreground introduction. These pulpits are supported by caryatides representing the Evangelists and four doctors of the Church.
The choir was designed by Pellegrini, and contains a fine sixteenth-century tabernacle of gilded bronze. Beneath is the subterranean church, through which one enters the tiny chapel, under the central spire, wherein is deposited, in a magnificent silver shrine the gift of Philip IV. of Spain, the body of S. Carlo Borromeo dressed in full pontificals. Born in 1538 he was created cardinal by his uncle, Pius IV., in 1561. After the close of the Council of Trent he assisted other prelates to draw up the epitome of Catholic doctrine, the "Catechismus Tridentinus"; but it is more for his good works and great charity, especially during the plague of 1576, that he lives in the hearts of the Milanese.
In the north transept is a very good example of the metal work of the thirteenth century, in the shape of a fine bejewelled bronze candelabrum. It forms a tree and has many quaint figures in its intricate design. In a chapel in this aisle is the old wooden crucifix which S. Carlo carried when barefooted he tramped the streets during the plague, tending the sick. In the south transept close to the corner near the staircase leading on to the roof is a monument to Giacomo and Gabriele de' Medici, brothers of Pius IV., and a bronze statue of S. Bartolommeo which represents him flayed. The south sacristy door is a fine specimen of Gothic work. Unlike the exterior effect, nothing obtrudes inside this great cathedral. The eye on entering looks straight up to the east, conscious as it travels there, of great pillars rising into the gloom of the vault above, of fine glass and restful solemnity, in which even the chapels in the aisles are lost, to be discovered later on only when searched for.
Next to "Mariæ Nascenti," but taking precedence in archæological interest, is the church of S. Ambrogio, a basilica dedicated by the Saint when bishop of Milan in 387 to SS. Gervasius and Protasius. It was enlarged and rebuilt in 881 and restored by Ricchini in 1631, all the original features being faithfully preserved. A closed courtyard stands below the level of the piazza outside and forms the Atrium beyond which no catechumens were allowed to pass. The capitals of the columns here have the tendency of early Christian Art and adaptations of Runic and Byzantine carving. The church is Lombardo Romanesque. Beneath the gallery over the peristyle is the celebrated door, well guarded by an iron grille, some of the cypress-wood panels of which formed portions of the gate of the Basilica Portiana closed by S. Ambrose against the Emperor Theodosius after his cruel slaughter in Thessalonica. The nave is entered by two side doors and is composed of eight bays, the columns of which are slender in proportion for the deep shadows of the dark aisles. Pilasters run up to the low round vaulting, the large galleries over the aisles being divided by these.
Up a few steps which cross the nave at the last bay, and behind a low marble balustrade, is the High Altar, enclosed by one of the finest extant relics of the goldsmith's art. This magnificent casing bears the name of its German maker, Wolvinius. Some of the panels, notably that of the Transfiguration, are very Greek in treatment. The back is almost of better workmanship than the front and is more interesting, as Wolvinius has here illustrated the principal events in the life of the founder. The enamelled borders of these silver-gilt panels are of exquisite design. One of the saint as a child asleep in his cradle with a swarm of bees hovering around, considered a presage of future eloquence, is very naïve. The baldachino above this altar is borne by four grand columns of black porphyry.
Up twelve steps are the choir and tribune, and at the end of these is the primitive throne of the Archbishop of Milan, known as the chair of S. Ambrose. The eighteen seats occupied by the suffragans of the province no longer exist, having been replaced in the sixteenth century by carved wooden stalls, and thus has perished a feature identical with the Cathedral at Torcello. The semi-domed roof of the Tribune is covered with a fine ninth-century mosaic which represents the seated figure of the Almighty, beneath whom are SS. Candida, Gervasius, Protasius, Marcellina and Satirus, and a representation of the cities of Milan and Tours—Tours because there, when S. Martin was undergoing martyrdom, the spirit of S. Ambrose went to give him strength. Beneath the choir is the crypt, and at its termination, exactly under the high altar in the church above, in a splendid casket of silver and crystal, repose the remains of three Saints, Ambrose, Gervasius and Protasius. There is a curious pulpit in the church of very early Lombard work, with an "Agape" or love feast carved upon its panels. Close by upon a granite pillar rests a bronze serpent, said to be the brazen serpent of the desert and presented to Archbishop Arnulphus by the Emperor of Constantinople. S. Ambrogio was the church in which the Lombard rulers were crowned with the Iron Crown that is the chief attraction in the neighbouring city of Monza.
So well known are the art treasures of Milan that it is hardly necessary to do more than allude to the many works of great interest in the Brera, formerly a Jesuit college, and in the celebrated Biblioteca Ambrosiana; or that greatest wonder of all which has drawn so many pilgrims to the Cenacolo, the refectory near the church of Santa Maria della Grazie—the much restored Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. The Castello of Milan was at one time the residence of the great Visconti family, and at the death of the last male representative passed by marriage into the hands of the first duke of the Sforza line. It was during their reign that Milan took the lead in the fashion of Europe (whence we have the word "milliner") and it was then that Leonardo wrought his masterpieces, including that great equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza which was the wonder of Milan, and of which posterity was so unhappily robbed by the French invasion.
. It might be worth your time to download the book.
Floorplan for the Milan Cathedral
A view of the interior of the Milan Cathedral
- Bl. Andrea Carlo Ferrari was appointed to be Archbishop of Milan on 21 May 1894, and he died in office, 2 Feburary 1921 at the age of 70.
- Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti followed him, and was appointed Archbisop of Milan on 13 Jun 1921 (he was quickly elevated to lead the church as Pope Pius XI).
- Eugenio Tosi followed as Archbisop of Milan on 7 Mar 1922, where he served until his death on 7 January 1929.
- Bl. Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster followed, and was appointed to be Archbisop of Milan on 26 Jun 1929. He served until 1954.