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"God gave it to me, beware whoever touches it": Napoleon in the Duomo

The document of August 2014

The Treaty of Lunéville, signed on 9 February 1801 by Joseph Bonaparte and Count Von Coblenz, ended the war between France and Austria that had started in 1799, confirming the conditions of the Treaty of Campo Formio. France gained control of the left bank of the Rhine, maintaining direct control over Piedmont and Liguria in Italy, whilst the Cisalpine Republic and the Kingdom of Etruria, which had replaced the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, remained under its protection and control.

Austria, on the other hand, gained the territory of the old Venetian Republic, stretching up to the Adige river. German princes, who were damaged by this treaty by the French annexation of the territories on the left bank of the Rhine, had to be indemnified with territories on the right bank of the Rhine, to be seized from ecclesiastical domains and cities. In order to celebrate the peace, the Government Committee ordered a Te deum to be sung in the Duomo on 31 March - or 10 Germinal IX according to the revolutionary calendar - lighting the Cathedral's cupola with torches.

A few months later, in Lyon, an extraordinary Constituent Assembly would approve the constitution of the new Cisalpine Republic, thus recognising Italy's wish for independence - sanctioned and protected by the Parisian government - in front of the rest of Europe. The Assembly's proceedings started at the end of November 1801, under the leadership of Talleyrand, but its sessions started to gather pace in January, with Napoleon's arrival. The main issue was the choice of the President of the Republic. Napoleon managed to find a solution with a mixture of sleight of hand and political cunning, threatening the return to a provisional government: he kept the post of President for himself, nominating Francesco Melzi d’Eril as his deputy. During the reading of the Constitutions, the reader, Rocchetti, with a crescendo of pathos and lyricism, started with the words "Constitution of the Republic of ...", followed by a pre-arranged theatrical pause. The audience in the room started to whisper "Italy, Italy!». Bonaparte nodded and the reader carried on, proclaiming the Italian Republic amidst resounding applause. Now the Iron Crown was the only thing missing to consecrate Napoleon's complete victory.

During the meeting of the Chapter of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo of 4 May 1805, a letter of the Minster for Ecclesiastical Affairs, Giovanni Bovara, was read, which set out the proceedings for the coronation ceremony of Napoleon, to be held in the Duomo on May 23. On the day planned for the ceremony, a relentless rain descended upon Milan. However, almost with a sense of foreboding, the placing of the Iron Crown on the head of Napoleon had been postponed by imperial decree to May 26, a beautifully sunny day. Under the cannons' salvoes, surrounded by a cheering crowd, the Emperor in the Duomo finally took the crown and, placing it on its head, uttered the words: «Dieu me l’a domnée, gare a qui y touchera». God gave it to me, beware whoever touches it.