First, I perused the exterior of the Duomo and walked on the sloping terraces of the roof. Then it was time to see the interior. It certainly did not disappoint. I was aware that the Duomo was the second largest cathedral in Europe and that its size ranked third in the world. To say that construction took a long time was an understatement. Work on the cathedral began in 1386 with the demolition of three buildings and did not finish until 1965.
I noticed that the Duomo featured a Latin cross plan. I knew that the nave was twice as wide as the two side aisles, measuring 45 meters in height. Forty pillars divided five naves. I saw stunning capitals on many pillars. Stunning altars and impressive sarcophagi punctuated the building.
While numerous statues of saints and martyrs dotted the cathedral, the statue which influenced me the most was the one of the flayed Saint Bartholomew, who was depicted holding his skin as a cloak. His ribs and chest, not to mention his whole body, were so anatomically well-defined. The masterful skill of rendering anatomy brought to mind the works of Leonardo da Vinci. I gazed, almost in a trace, at the 1562-made statue by Marco d’Agrate, that which showed unspeakable suffering and yet a sense of perseverance as well. I thought about those suffering horribly, such as the Ukrainians fighting a war or the mothers and children who have fled to the Czech Republic. I was thankful I did not have to suffer as those people did.
What impressed me just as much as the statue of Saint Bartholomew were the mesmerizing stained-glass windows. All the large windows featured stained glass and served as pictorial narrations of scenes from the Old and New Testaments, the life of Virgin Mary and the lives of various saints. The oldest window dated from the 15th century and was in Renaissance style. In the three walls of the apse, the windows were much younger, hailing from the 19th century while there were even more created in the 20th century. Some windows hailing from the 15th century showed scenes about Saint John Damascene and Saint John the Evangelist.
More about the interior: The legendary artist Bramante designed the cupola, which is supported by four pilasters. The baptistery is a 16th century marvel, dominated by an exquisite baptismal font made of porphyry. I also noticed the 18th century sundial. The sun shines on the brass strip exactly at noon. It also displayed the exact time and month.
Several of the sarcophagi were extremely notable. One harkening back to the 15th century and decorated with impressive statues, held the body of Corelli, a merchant who was a patron of the building. In fact, the first spire built in the 18th century was named after him, too.
The transept included three aisles and chapels with splendid altars and artistic creations. The 12th century bronze Trivulzio Candelabrum in Gothic style can be seen here. Its ornamentation was outstanding. The seven-branched Trivulzio Candelabrum was adorned with precious stones. Its height reached five meters. Biblical scenes, allegorical representations of vices and virtues and fantasy-like animals were all represented. One of the Allegory of the Vices appeared as a drunk man.
Gian Giacomo Medici di Marignano, nicknamed the Medeghino, was able to be buried in this cathedral because he had family connections. Appearing pensive and distinguished in his Renaissance likeness, the Medeghino was the brother of Pope Pius IV. His stunning tomb hailed from the 16th century and showed off Roman Renaissance style. Superb allegories of war and peace adorned his tomb.
The presbytery harkened back to the 16th century and included a wooden choir, high altar, two pulpits and two large organs, one of which is the largest in Italy. This organ boasted of five manuals and 225 pedals. Silver statues representing saints and a tabernacle made up the ciborium. Above the choir was a large wooden Crucifix with a shrine containing the Holy Nail, supposedly taken from the Cross of the Crucifixion. I mused how intriguing it must be to witness the annual Rite of the Nivola. That’s when the archbishop takes the Holy Nail out of shrine and places it near the main altar. People can pay their respects to it for the following three days.
I made sure I looked down as well. The Candoglia marble floors ranged in age from the 16th to the 20th century. The pink-and-white slabs along with the black-and-red pieces were so beautiful and precious. I stared at the stunning Gothic portals from the 14th century in the sacristies and thought of the many Gothic churches, modest in comparison, that I had visited. The crypt was closed, but I knew that it contained an altar with relics of saints and martyrs.
It took me several hours to familiarize myself with both the exterior and interior of the Duomo. It was an experience that I would never forget. All those centuries of history fused together to make such a grand work of architecture containing so many artistic creations. I was overwhelmed and needed time to process everything that I had seen. I decided to go to lunch over which I could ponder the symbol of the city. Then I would go to a large bookstore, one of my favorite pastimes, and then proceed to the Museum of the Duomo and the Titian exhibition.
Tracy A. Burns is a writer, proofreader and editor in Prague.