Marmo per i Re Magi

Marble for the Three Wise Men

The Document of the Month, January 2018

The Archives of the Duomo di Milano preserve, together with the history of the Duomo, the true Chronicles of the City. The document selected this month demonstrates it once more, taking us back to the early 1900s when, after many centuries, the relics of the Three Wise Men were returned to the city.

According to the tradition, these relics were brought to Milan from Constantinople during the 4th century. An advocate for this version of history was Eustorgius I, who, having gone to the capital of the empire in order to receive confirmation from the episcopate, returned with a Roman ark containing the remains of the Magi. The chronicles show that the oxen that pulled the wagon loaded with the heavy ark, stopped before reaching the planned destination, the Basilica di Santa Tecla. Unable to move them, Eustorgius thus decided to construct a basilica on that spot, which many years later would be deciated to him: the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio. An object of worship for the Milanese people during the centuries, the relics were subsequently stolen during the looting which the city experienced in 1162 at the hands of Federico Barbarossa’s troupes, and transported to Cologne.

Carlo Borromeo tried to recover these precious relics, but it wasn’t until 1903 that, thanks to the hard work of Card. Ferrari, a partial restitution was finally obtained.

Special celebrations were organised for the occasion, and the Ancona dei Magi, a marvellous marble triptych dating from 1343, was partially returned. It was for this reason that, on 24th November 1903, the vicar of the Basilica di Sant’Eustorgio, Don Giuseppe Santagostino, wrote to the Fabbrica del Duomo, asking for several pieces of Candoglia marble “as the said altar is architecturally constructed of Candoglia marble, or as many say, of the Duomo” (AD, Candoglia, cart. 3 fasc. 8), and provided, upon request, the specifications for a total of 21 small pieces along with their measurements. The request was immediately granted by the Fabbrica del Duomo’s board and sent to the quarry, which delivered the commissioned material the following March.

The story which this letter and related correspondence represents is further proof of the effect which any event that took place within the city had in the life of the Fabbrica del Duomo over the centuries. Not only it was the protagonist of an extraordinary and far reaching project during its first centuries of life, but throughout its journey it has been involved in and shared in the life of the city. The Archives preserve a detailed record of this responsibility and contribute to bringing further awareness to the work of the Fabbrica as it continues to renovate, maintain, and promote the Duomo, the international symbol of Milan.