Documento Mese Luglio 2015 BUONA

Giving bread to the poor: an legacy made six centuries ago but still in force today

The Document of the Month of July 2015

FROM THE WILLS AND DONATIONS IN THE ARCHIVES - This month we present a document held together with numerous others in the Wills and donations section of the historical archives of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano. This, obviously, is a section of the archives that is of enormous interest, containing over seven hundred documents dating from the end of the 1200s up to 1793. 
Wills are documents full of implications and consequences that are important from all points of view: indeed, while they are conceived and drawn up on the occasion or in any case in anticipation of the death of the parties producing them, they are in any case “dictated by a living person and intended for other living persons” (Fasoli). Anthropological, religious, social and economic dynamics are interwoven in these documents, so much so that the instructions regarding last wishes from all ages and of all civilisations are to an increasingly large extent the subject of in-depth studies by researchers in various branches of learning. 

THE LEGACY OF THE INNKEEPER GIOVANNINO BATTAGLIA - The document we are focussing on this month is dated 21 August 1399, and opens with one of the typical introductory formulas used for wills in Lombardy in the 14th and 15th centuries which was brief but fascinating: “Life and death being in the hands of God the Almighty, it is better to live fearing death than to be overwhelmed by a sudden death while hoping to live”. The text then continues with quite straightforward provisions, in which an innkeeper, one Giovannino Battaglia, declares the Fabbrica del Duomo and the pauperes seculares(secular poor) of the hospital of Sant’Antonio as his universal heirs, each respectively of half of his whole estate. 

THE FABBRICA AND THE GIFT OF BREAD - After further details related to minor bequeathals to a number of relatives, the testator asked to be buried in the church of Santo Stefano in Brolo and that a tomb should be built for which he provided a sufficient sum. And it is here that an interesting detail is included: he asked his heirs, and therefore the Fabbrica too, to undertake to donate a large quantity of wheat bread to the poor on 1 May of each year to be distributed in his place of burial. This act, simple yet significant in a city where there were a great many beggars knocking on the doors of the churches every day, reveals to us a Fabbrica that not only received, but also undertook to donate. It also reveals how, within the city, the Fabbrica was considered not only as an important institution due to its main business, that is the construction of the Cathedral, but also for the care and protection of the people of Milan.

A TRADITION THAT CONTINUES, FROM SANTA LUCIA TO EXPO2015 Over the centuries, this act of giving, a “holy act linked to the innate piety of man” (Brivio), was to be repeated until it became a fundamental moment in the life of the Fabbrica, with the distribution of bread on the feast of Santa Lucia, the patron saint of stone masons. 
During the Expo event, the Veneranda Fabbrica has restored the meaning of this act, which is simple but full of significance, arranging for the distribution, every Friday evening, of the bread of hope, symbol of its commitment and its positive resourcefulness in present-day Milan.