“Even better than praise, grateful admiration is due to our progenitors who, with much generosity, joined together to supply the means for the enormous construction. Setting class differences aside, all rushed to bring offerings for the great undertaking, not only material offerings of money and things, but even with manual labour.”
(Annali of the Fabbrica del Duomo, Appendices Vol.1, p.9)
How were the Annali della Fabbrica (Annals of the Fabbrica) created?
It all began in the 19th century. More precisely, during a meeting on 12 March 1867, a letter was written by the board members of the Fabbrica del Duomo which read: “As proposed by and under the direction of the esteemed colleague and attorney, Mr Casanova, the Administration of the Fabbrica del Duomo has reorganised, transcribed and in part summarised the collection (located, with few exceptions, in the archive of the Fabbrica) of the procedural documents of this same Administration, which began in the year 1387 and continue to our times.”
The Annals, so founded, would contain the history of the city of Milan, the arts, the industries, wages and local customs, but most importantly, the memory of many Milanese characters and families. The work of collecting and archiving was intended for the benefit of scholars and their research.
A bit of trivia: who thought of the name Annals and why?
Though not common knowledge, it was Cesare Cantù (famous literary figure, confidant of Alessandro Manzoni, and author of the monumental ) who suggested the title Annals of the Fabbrica del Duomo. He proposed the name on 27 March 1875 in response to the request for publication from the Fabbrica’s Board of Directors, noting: “so great is the information it provides about national history, economy and about art”.
Always looking ahead to the future
“We here do not make history; we prepare the materials”.
Since 1867, the long-term intention of the Fabbrica was already clear regarding the compilation of the Annals. These acts were not proposed just to tell the story of the construction of the Cathedral, but moreover that of its administration and the precious artistic, civic, and social information it provides. This is “precious” for those who believe that history is not just characterised by vague generality full of “obstacles”, but rather has the privileged role of observation of facts.
It is not by chance, then, that in the 1300s this work was desired by and entrusted to the population: each of the six quarters of Milan chose about fifty citizens to assist the Board of Directors with the construction of the cathedral.
Moreover, the economic documents relating to the monument’s administration has given us a glimpse into the prices of commodities, the value of provisions, horses, wine, bread, Masses, offices, coins, metals, the purchase and rental of houses and farms, and even technical processes, customs, and rites.
“A onor di Dio e della B. V. sub cujus vocabulo, JAM MULTO RETRO TEMPORIBUS, initiata est, et nunc divina inspiratione et suocondigno favore fabbricatur”.
A gift is reborn with the restoration of the Archives
The Annals have been a great gift to the city and will continue to be so for future generations, thanks to the Board of the Veneranda Fabbrica’s desire to continue along this path. Not only were the Archives restored and opened on 26 May 2016, but that is also the date on which the Annals where digitised and made available online. These documents are now available to all directly from duomomilano.it, telling the story of the Duomo, symbol of the city to the world, along with that of the Milanese who built it and eternalised its beauty and identity.