Documento Del Mese Marzo

The Duomo of Milan and the wine: the bearers of St. Ambrose's standard used to be paid with two pitchers

The document of March 2015

It could be said that, generations after generations of Milanese citizens have always loved and protected their Duomo like one of their children: in the same way, many archival documents of the Fabbrica responsible for building the Cathedral show a similar "caring" attitude towards its workers. 
This attitude is reflected in today's document, dated 2 August 1635 (H.A. 191, Chapter XVIII bis, Par. XL f. 4 No° 3), which refers to the remuneration for workers. The latter consisted of a good considered extremely valuable and widely-consumed even at that time: wine.
This reward was granted during city processions, when the bearers of St. Ambrose's standard used to be paid with two jugs of wine. Given that, the previous year, this custom had been suspended, a certain Cesare Costa asked for it to be re-instated on behalf of other standard-bearers. “It has been an ancient custom of this Ven. Fabrica to give two jugs of wine or its value to each of the bearers of the standard [underlined] of St. Ambrose of this city for each offer paid to this Fabrica throughout the year, as you can see from the entries in its books. Now, last year this reward has been taken away. The same standard-bearers thought that Y[ou] did not want them to ask for something new and decided to continue to enjoy it.[We] impl[ore] Y[ou ] to support them and order that the supplicants shall be granted the same reward as before, and that they shall be reimbursed for the reward that was not granted last year, which they hope to receive out of your goodness”.
The “standard” in question must be the first city banner: the famous tapestry (nowadays preserved at Sforza Castle) crafted half a century before, starting from 1565, and based on drawings of renowned artists of that time, such as Giuseppe Arcimboldi and Giuseppe Meda, a master who had very close links to the Cathedral: in that very year, he won one of the most prestigious competitions of the time, the one organised by the Fabbrica for the new organ doors, where he prevailed over the biggest competitor, Bernardino Campi from Cremona. As a testament to the banner's prestige, Scipione Delfinone was asked to embroider the tapestry: not only did he belong to a famous family of embroiderers who had been active for about a century, but he had also gained international fame, receiving commissions from kings such as Henry VIII of England or Philip II of Spain, under whose domain the city was at the time. Blessed by Saint Charles Borromeo, the banner was carried in procession for the feast of the Pentecost, on 2 June 1566. At the time the document was written, a terrible plague had finished just a few years before, the city had been declared pest-free with trumpet peals and processions had been reinstated. For those events, too, wine was an important supplement as it was an energy-rich drink, also considering the hardships of the times.
As far as we know, even at the time, wine was stored safely, behind a heavy door secured by two large chains, in the Fabbrica's cellar: the manager was severely prohibited from removing wine for any reason.