Seven Italian Postcards
Card 1: Twin Cathedrals

Looming in the vortex of Milan the Duomo presides from the
east side of a large square named for it, and the cathedral makes small all who see it. Tiers of carved gray-pink marble grow wildly skyward, bristling with spires, arches, buttresses, and countless statues. Up close, these figures depict a pantheon of saints and martyrs, beasts and gargoyles, verily the beautiful and the damned who have witnessed much since the cathedral was first begun in the Lombardian capital, in that plague-free year of 1386.

Through high bronze doors peasants and guildsmen, farmers, shopkeepers, bishops, mothers, princes, killers, milkmaids, and kings have all passed during the ensuing half-dozen centuries-drawn by faith or hope, fear or skepticism-to worship or simply gaze at an amazing concoction of architecture and the occult.

Inside, upheld by pillars thick as redwood trees, the main transcept draws the eye upward to the heavens-which is the point of its design, after all-then down and forward past stained glass windows, carved wood, pews, votives, mosaic, shadow. Decorum and mysticism intertwined. I couldn't know what manner of craftsmen saw this masterwork rise from the plain, all those who labored together in different centuries, obeying the same plan. That the third largest cathedral in the world achieved unity amid eons of war, disease, famine, and revolt is something of a miracle right there, liturgy or not, and true reverence can be felt for the merely, elegantly earthly.

In a side altar hundreds of candles burned redly before a kneeling few, and nearby in a wooden box a silvery priest prepared to receive confession under a dim amber bulb; he adjusted his stole and vestments, smoothed his hair, prayed. This tableau had more than a touch of a Renaissance painting about it, so I studied it a moment and let it freeze in my mind, like this postcard snapshot. And I, a furtive intruder.

Picture Page: Places

Card 2: Piazza del Duomo

this travelogue is part of the subside travelzine
about bookshelf links contact submit