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16 May May 2016 1624 8 months ago

The Milan Duomo's battle scars

The various dramatic events to which the cathedral has borne witness, from the First and Second World Wars, are recounted in the pages of the "Annali della Fabbrica" (the Veneranda Fabbrica's Annals).

To celebrate the inauguration of the restoration of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano's archives, which will be fêted on May 26th, the Annals of the Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano will be made available in digital format on the duomomilano.it website: a live depository of the Milanese and European experience, where collective and individual history intertwine.

The Duomo is so much more than just a cathedral - it is an entirely unique building, whose architecture reflects the will of the people of Milan.

Its history, and the pages of the Annals which bear testament to this, bear the traces and the scars that the two World Wars inflicted on all of humanity. A scratch on a social tableau, painted by each and every citizen.

In light of the state of war which currently prevails in the country, visitors are not permitted to climb to the top of the Duomo.
(24 May 1915)

Safety measures for the "Protection of the Temple" 
(24 February 1916) The architect of the Fabbrica informs the Head of Monuments for Lombardy that the following precautions should be taken in the Duomo, in order to protect the monument and its works of art (...)

For Italy, the First World War began on 24 May 1915. Despite being far away from the front line, Milan was nonetheless the city closest to the area behind the conflict. Indeed, the front actually stretched from Stelvio to the Adriatic, incorporating part of the Lombardy region as it is today.

Work to remove the Duomo's windows had started and was ongoing, with these being placed in an underground space at the Administration building in Camposanto, and substituted with canvas-covered wooden frames.

It was only in the Second World War that the Madonnina statue was covered with a grey-green cloth, despite the fact that in 1915, this measure was deemed sufficient to protect it. It was solemnly unveiled again following the end of the war by Cardinal Schuster, on 6 May 1945. With regard to the most valuable objects of the Duomo Treasury and the tomb of St. Charles, the Council authorised the delivery of these to the Government, so that they could be transferred to safer locations. On 18 November 1917, Senator Emanuele Greppi, accompanied by Monsignor Carlo Confalonieri and Archbishop Adolfo Zacchi, intervened to place the artefacts in "careful secret custody" *, and the return of these treasures in a perfect state of preservation was recorded on 1 December 1918, a month after hostilities ceased.

The Cathedral Choir archive documents were collected and packed in boxes and transported to Rome by the Head of Monuments, to be kept in the Palazzo degli Archivi archive. The list was compiled by Professor Gaetano Cesari, and the documents were delivered on 3 July, 1918. 

The Second World War – Measures and restorations
The measures taken to protect the most precious works of the Duomo were established by Head of Monuments Professor Gino Chierici on 23 July 1940.

Having excluded the possibility of protecting the historical monument as a whole, or part thereof (for example, the facade of the main spire), the professor nominated a number of artistic and architectural elements to be shielded, such as the historical archives, the stained-glass windows, the Treasury and Urn of St. Charles.

(April 26, 1944) the Fabbrica Direction - Moral Statement
"The President of the Duomo submits the General Statements for 1942 to the Head of the Province, the compilation of which was delayed by a series of extraordinary events, such as the damage suffered by the Duomo and the Fabbrica during air strikes, and the instability of the current situation."

Despite the lack of materials and the scarcity of labour due to the emergency circumstances of the time, work continued on the creation of a marble floor for the Duomo, although laying it was delayed. The Cave di Candoglia workers, too, retained a remarkable degree of efficiency, despite a greatly reduced workforce. Similarly, those in charge of the Duomo never lost sight of the necessary measures that would need to be taken to manage the Veneranda Fabbrica during the post-war period; this turned out to be far-sighted indeed, especially in light of the substantial losses suffered by the Duomo following the bombings of August 1943. There is little detail in the Annals for the period between 1945 and 1947, and any entries are largely practical, relating to the repair of war damage and applications to the Milan Prefecture for compensation for this.

But the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo never lost sight of its city or of the people of Milan, and like its original construction, the reconstruction of the cathedral was a collective, shared effort. One of the more curious entries appears in 1944, referring to the location of some "binoculars" on the Duomo. For what reason?

Find out more about this and much more right here from 26 May 2016, when the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo archive is inaugurated.

Milan: Duomo restorations - air raid

Giornale Luce C0392, dated 15/04/1944

Luce Historical archives Luce Institute, Cinecittà

* "The undersigned, Deputy-Prefect of SS.PP.AA., by special commission to His Eminence Cardinal Piero Gasparri, Secretary of State for His Holiness and Prefect of SS.PP.AA., declares that in this apostolic Palazzo, he has received into his custody, for the duration of the war - from the Commissioner Mr. Ettore Modigliani, director of the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan and Head of galleries and works of art in Lombardy, and in the presence of the Most Illustrious and Most Reverend Monsignor Carlo Brera of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo Board of Directors, and of Archbishop Mr. Adolfo Zacchi - three pine boxes bearing Pinacoteca di Brera lead seals (...) Mr. Modigliani attests that these cases contain objects from the Duomo of Milan Treasury."