Documento del Mese di Settembre 2017 2

Carved in memory

Document of the Month September 2017

With the arrival of the new archbishop, September will be a moment of great celebration and joy for the Ambrosian Church. As with all important events in the Milanese Church, a visible sign of this “changing of the guard” will be left in the Cathedral: in the third bay of the south nave is a large memorial tablet which commemorates, in chronological succession, all the Milanese archbishops: here the name of mons. Delpini and the year of his election will be carved.

As can be seen in the sizeable dossier kept in the Veneranda Fabbrica Archives (AD, Duomo Works, folder 74 dossier 2), the tablet was made in the 1870s upon the proposal of  a counsellor of the Fabbrica, Marquis Francesco Cusani, who, while work was in progress near the Aquilonare Sacristy, suggested embellishing the wall with a list of the archbishops, which «by decorating the Cathedral would also help to illuminate a part of its history which is very little known». 

The proposal was welcomed and the Counsel appointed Cusani himself to draw up the chronotaxis and the text to be carved on the tablet. In a detailed report dated 15th March 1871 Cusani illustrated the criteria and sources of his research,  i.e. a list with progressive numbering, first name and surname of the archbishop, geographical origin, dates of election and death and place of burial, when known. This latter piece of information was not included in the end, as it was deemed to be too difficult in the graphic composition of the tablet.

The list is arranged in three columns, with each one surmounted by a decorative part. On the left are the crook and the mitre, symbols of the episcopal ministry; in the centre the pallium, reserved for the Pope and the metropolitan archbishops; on the right, the astylar cross and the Gospel. It bears the words Euntes docete omnes gentes (Mt 28, 19): the quotation, chosen from many others, as can be seen from a document kept in the Archives, is particularly significant as the continuation of this passage from the Gospel (Euntes ergo docete omnes gentes baptizantes eos in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti …) recalls a pastoral duty dear to the patron saint of Milan, Ambrose, who baptised Saint Augustine only  a few metres from this tablet,  in the baptistery of  San Giovanni alle Fonti.

At the end of the nineteenth century , therefore, it was Veneranda Fabbrica’s desire to commemorate in marble the long line of archbishops who guided the Ambrosian Church.  Over a century later this desire remains and the Fabbrica welcomes the new archbishop, renewing its commitment to the protection, conservation and  valorization of the Cathedral, a symbol of Faith and Art.