I can never remember anything related to churches. I have visited so many of them now but there is not even one which I could call to mind. Except for the cathedral of Albi in France maybe. Because it looks more like a spooky fortress than like a church and because its interior is painted in the most crazy colors. But all the others? Sunken one by one in the quicksand of my memory. My church alzheimer goes so far that this morning, while reading the description of the Duomo (item 2 on my Milanese to-do list), it took me more than half an hour to realize that I actually had visited this church once before, one and a half year ago. Sacrilege – I know – because how on earth is it possible for a Milanese to-be to forget about her own Duomo? Well honestly, I have no idea either but reality is what it is and I don’t feel like lying to you. Maybe it’s just a matter of strategy? Maybe this time I should try to concentrate maximum on three details which I really want to remember, instead of trying to absorb this big gothic giant as a whole. Yes, that sounds like a better idea.
|Do you see the little red light? |
That's where you can find the nail!
I open my handbag for the safety officers at the entrance to verify I’m not a terrorist, after which I enter the holy building. I immediately begin to select the three details I want to take home with me today. One of them will definitely be a nail. That’s because I read this morning that every year around the 14th of September the archbishop of Milan steps into some kind of little baroque basket (I’m sure they have some more reverential term for it but I can’t think of it now) to be pulled 45 meters up to the tabernacle to grab a nail which was used to crucify Jesus. The crooked little thing, which nobody was able to put straight (proof of its true holiness), was carried in 1567 around the whole city of Milan to scare out the Black Death. Reason enough to become part of my Duomo selection I would say.
Finding the second detail which I never want to forget after today, doesn’t take me long either. I’m talking about the statue which made me realize this morning that I actually wasn’t going to visit the Duomo for the first time. The fact that this statue managed to escape from oblivion despite my absolute lack of church related memory capacity, isn’t very surprising when you know what it actually represents. At first sight it looks like a beautiful naked muscular man wearing some kind of long scarf around his neck. This might seem a bit odd given the holy environment we’re standing in until you open your guide book and understand that the man actually represents the flayed Saint Bartholomew and that his scarf is not a scarf but his own skin which he carries on his shoulders! Horrifying enough to earn himself a place in my memory and therefore also in my Duomo top 3. Still one more detail to go and then I can rightly declare my second Milanese task to be fulfilled.
I look around in the hope to find a nice third detail to end this visit in beauty when suddenly a guy named Paolo walks up to me and asks if he can help me with a guided tour of the Duomo. “No thank you,” I say, because I need to fully concentrate on the execution of my to-do list, “but maybe you can tell me what, according to you, can be considered the most breath taking detail of this church”. Paolo reflects for a second and answers then without any doubt: “its façade”. “The front of the Duomo is just stunning and definitely one of the few truly magnificent things Milan has to offer”. Personally I was more looking for a detail of the inside of the Duomo, but at second thought I have to say I think Paolo is right. Because even if this morning I had completely forgotten about the interior of this impressive gothic temple, I clearly remember how the divine beauty of its façade burnt itself forever in my memory from the first second I saw it. At least one church related detail I’m sure I’ll never forget! Maybe I’m not becoming that bad of a Milanese after all...