Documento del mese settembre 2015 nuovo

Expo 1906, traces of a lost heritage

The Document of the Month of September 2015

Returning to the theme introduced last month, namely that of the participation of the Veneranda Fabbrica at the Universal Exposition of 1906, we present the Catalogue that was published on that occasion. It was not - as usually happens on these occasions - a simple summary of an event that was about to end, but took on a very different emphasis and value, due to the events that immediately preceded its publication.

THE HISTORIC FIRE AND THE NARRATION IN THE CATALOGUE- On the night of 3 August 1906, in fact, a dramatic fire broke out in the pavilion. In the introduction to the Catalogue, those terrible moments were described as follows: "The flames which had suddenly flared up in the adjacent Decorative Art section propagated with such violence as to render ineffective the numerous precautions taken by the Fabbrica to protect the objects exhibited. The special care used to protect the wooden structure of the pavilion and the various hydrants predisposed for all extinguishing requirements were of no avail [...]. It took only a few minutes - perhaps half an hour at most - for so many precious objects, gathered together as in a museum, to be reduced to lime and charcoal […]".

AN EXTREMELY PRECIOUS DOCUMENT - So this Catalogue today represents a fundamental document, the memory of what was destroyed by the flames. It lists - accompanied by a number of photos - 153 pieces, including drawings, documents, photographs, models, tapestries and more, i.e. that which the Fabbrica had chosen to show the world, in order for it to admire the beauty and grandeur of its history. Among others, one of the fundamental documents for the birth of the Cathedral, i.e. the letter with which, in 1386, Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzo urged the people of Milan to rebuild the old crumbling church of Santa Maria Maggiore, was lost. Along with parchment, the archbishop's seal, which the curators of the Catalogue providentially had reproduced with a design now of great interest to students of sphragistics, due of the rarity of said seal, was also lost. The remains that were able to be recovered from the rubble were taken to the restoration workshop of the Ambrosiana Library, where the future Pope Pius XI, Msgr. Achille Ratti, took care of them, coordinating a restoration work that in many cases allowed the legibility of many texts to be recovered.