Milan Cathedral

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Facade of the Milan Cathedral (2010)
Exterior view of the cathedral from the southwest (2016)

The Milan Cathedral ( Lombardy Dom de Milan , Italian Duomo di Milano (actually Basilica cattedrale metropolitana di Santa Maria Nascente )) is a Roman Catholic church in Milan under the patronage of the Birth of Mary . It is the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Milan .

In terms of area, it is one of the largest churches in the world. Begun in Gothic form in 1386 , the cathedral was not yet completed by the final consecration in 1572 and only got its present facade from the Napoleonic era.


Start of construction in 1386

Previously, on the site of the cathedral, after a temple from Roman times, there was an early Christian church of Santa Maria Maggiore and in the area of ​​today's square a larger Roman basilica , which was later consecrated to Saint Tecla , but was laid down in 1548. Both date back to the fourth century and have been destroyed and rebuilt several times.

The construction of the cathedral began in 1386 on the initiative of Bishop Antonio Saluzzo by the city lord Gian Galeazzo Visconti , who later became the first Duke of Milan . In 1388 the foundations were laid and the construction of the outer walls of a three-nave church started from the apse. Up to 1402, contemporary sources mention not only Italian but also competing French and German builders, some of whom followed traditional local traditions, others strive for maximum height and transparency of the building. The foreigners were soon completely ousted by Lombards, but the building remained under the influence of French and German Gothic. The apse was raised around 1400, the year 1402 was mentioned for the tracery of the 22.5 meter high, stained glass choir windows with their rotating fish bubbles , and the transepts were also completed in 1409. When Pope Martin V consecrated the main altar in 1418 , the crossing tower was still unfinished. In the second half of the 15th century, construction was pushed to the west. The building material, marble from the princely quarries of Candoglia in Val d'Ossola on Lake Maggiore, with which the brick-built structure is clad, was brought in via canals, the Milanese Navigli . Each block was given the identifier AUF (= ad usum fabricae / for use in the cathedral building) and could thus be imported duty-free. Gian Galeazzo was pursuing a highly ambitious project, with which he oriented himself towards cathedral buildings in other European ruling centers in order to demonstrate his claim to a leading role in northern Italy.

The construction of the crossing tower caused great structural and design problems, but was completed in 1500 in the era of the cathedral builder Giovanni Antonio Amadeo . When Bishop Karl Borromeo was finally able to inaugurate the cathedral in 1572, it was closed in the west with a makeshift brick wall. Various facade designs since the first half of the 16th century were initially not implemented.

The cathedral builder Pellegrino Tibaldi , who had been active since 1567, instead thoroughly rebuilt the choir in the early Baroque style by 1577 . Little more than the portal zone was realized from his facade plan, created around 1570, which provided for a “Roman” in the Renaissance style instead of the Gothic elevation, now connoted as “German” and “Protestant”.

Carlo Buzzi , cathedral builder from 1630, modified it by separating the five axes with pinnacles in 1647 and emphasizing the "Gothic" vertical again more strongly. But construction progressed slowly in the 17th and 18th centuries, although it was reduced to work on the facade.

It was not until Napoleon , who was crowned King of Italy in the cathedral on May 26th, 1805 , that the facade was built in neo-Gothic style by Giuseppe Zanola and completed by Amati in 1813. In 1858 the bell tower was demolished and the pinnacles were completed in the early 1890s. Giuseppe Brentano's winning competition design from 1887/88, which provided for a consistent neo-Gothic facade design, remained unrealized.

The question of a campanile appropriate to the monumental character of the cathedral was discussed again and again . Seregni and Buzzi had submitted plans for two towers. The last time it was said in 1938 was that a project by a certain Vico Viganò from 1927 would soon be realized as the “Tower of Remembrance of Victories and Glory” (“Torre delle Memorie delle Vittorie e delle Glorie”). The so-called bell tower was to become the tallest church tower in the world and should be completed including the bells by 1942. The Corriere della Sera of October 20, 1938 formulated it in the three-column title as follows: “II Duomo avrà il campanile più alto del mondo. L'ordine del Duce: le campane a posto nel 1942. “This project, favored by Benito Mussolini, was not carried out due to lack of funds .


The style of the church building is Gothic and is therefore an exception within Italian architecture . However, the facade, which was only completed under Napoleon, is more to be seen as a mixture of baroque and neo-Gothic style elements. The large, representative cathedral square was only created between 1865 and 1873.


The side walls of the cathedral date from the 15th to the 18th centuries and are interrupted by rhythmic buttresses crowned by pinnacles and high windows. At the transepts ( transepts ) the buttresses are double, here stairs lead up inside. The tip is provided with fine ornamentation. The walls are adorned with over 2000 sculptures and 135  pinnacles , which give an overview of the sculptural art of local and foreign artists and craftsmen from different eras.

top, roof

View over the roof in west direction

A special feature is the roof, which tourists can walk on for a fee. It can be reached either via stairs or an elevator. From there there is a view of the details of the stonemasonry of the cathedral. Furthermore, you can see the panorama of the entire city and on a clear day as far as the Alps.

Crossing tower

Crossing tower

The octagonal crossing tower of Amadeo was built in the 15th and 16th centuries. On the central spire there is a gilded statue of Our Lady ascending to heaven, popularly called La Madonnina ( sung about in the unofficial Milan city anthem O mia bela Madunina ), which can be seen from afar . This was modeled from sheet copper based on a model by Giuseppe Perego , gilded according to a proposal by Anton Raphael Mengs, and placed on top in 1774.


Main portal

Five portals on the facade lead into the interior. The bronze doors of the main portal by Lodovico Poliaghi shows the seven joys of Mary against a visualization of her seven sorrows . The virtuously modeled reliefs combine elements of neo-Gothic with those of art nouveau .

The northernmost side portal from 1948 is dedicated to the peace of Christianity; the large tablets of the Edict of Milan in the center are accompanied by scenes of the persecution and liberation of Christians. The wings of the next door from 1950 are dedicated to the life of St. Ambrose. To the right of the main portal it continues with descriptions of the medieval battles of Milan against the Holy Roman Empire and the wooden door on the far right from 1965 describes the history of the cathedral in the era of Karl Borromeo.

Interior and outfit

Floor plan and vault plan (without belt ribs )

The very regular floor plan has the shape of a Latin cross . The basic dimensions of the five ships of the nave, the three-nave transept and of sacristies flanked dealing choir French model followed by fixed measure relations: nave and transept are twice as wide as each of the square aisles .

The elevation, although basilica , shows only a slight gradation of heights that is typical of Lombard architecture, which means that it is sparsely lit and appears compact. The vaults are supported by 52  bundle pillars, whose peculiar capitals , up to six meters high , are crowned with niches in which there are figures of saints and in some cases are closed off with figures of prophets on the canopies .

The floor of the cathedral was laid from 1585 in its present form of white-red-black panels and was not completed until the middle of the 20th century. It consists of marble and other stone, which are laid as colored incrustations .

Central portal

The central portal is surrounded on the inner facade by early Baroque architectural elements, and flanked by late Classicist statues from 1837 of Saints Ambrose and Carlo . A memorial stone commemorates the consecration of the cathedral in 1418 and 1577. A narrow staircase leads to the archaeological excavations (remains of the previous buildings) and to the former baptistery , where St. Augustine was baptized by Bishop Ambrosius in 387.

Left aisle

Here you will find altars from the 16th to 19th centuries with important art treasures, such as marble slabs from the 12th century with figures of the apostles and the wooden cross that was carried by Charles Borromeo during the procession in 1576 during the plague. Furthermore, the baptistery with a Roman tub, which originally stood in the central nave, was moved here in the 17th century.

Right aisle

Statue of the skinned Saint Bartholomew from 1562.

In addition to altars from the 14th and 15th centuries, there are many sarcophagi of saints and donors. The windows were made by Flemish, Lombard and Rhenish artists in the 15th century.


The right transept with the tomb of Gian Giacomo Medici , called Il Meneghino, is equipped and decorated like the left with beautiful statues, including the statue of the skinned Saint Bartholomew by Marco d'Agrate from 1562. The left transept houses the Trivulzio -Candelabra. The five-meter-high, seven-armed chandelier is a masterpiece by early Gothic bronze casters from the Rhineland, the Maas region or Lorraine. It was previously attributed to Nicholas of Verdun and in any case dates from the decades around 1200. It shows biblical and profane scenes.


Choir of the Milan Cathedral

In the second half of the 16th century, Pellegrini built the presbytery , the wooden choir screen surrounding the high altar, which contains a tabernacle supported by four bronze angels created by Francesco Brambilla under a ciborium in the form of a round temple . The dome is crowned by a statue of the triumphant Christ. Only during Easter is the figure-adorned, teardrop-shaped Easter candlestick from 1439 hung above the altar. Once a year only, on May 3rd, a holy cross nail in its cross-shaped reliquary is lowered from its usual place in the vaulted ceiling, marked by a red lamp. The reliefs from the 17th century on the rear wall of the choir depict scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary .



The circular crypt , which is located directly under the high altar and is accessible from the southern rear wall of the choir, dates from 1606 by Pellegrini . From here you get to the Scurolo di San Carlo , an octagonal chapel from 1606, which contains the remains of St. Charles Borromeo in a crystal urn . The lining with silver reliefs depicting the life of the saint comes from 19th century Milanese goldsmiths.


The two sacristies are on either side of the choir and are structurally from the 14th century. South sacristy: Coronation of the portal by the German sculptor Hans von Fernach from 1391, lavabo from 1396, Christ on the pillar of torture, sculpture by Christophoro Solari. North sacristy: portal from 1396, marble floor from 1407, ceiling frescoes from 1600.

Stained glass window

The large-format stained-glass windows, which are so unusual for Italy, are in varying degrees of preservation and supplementation, but were partly made in the 14th century.

Overview of the stained glass
Detail of the still well-preserved fifth glass window in the right aisle
Stained glass window in the apse

South side

  • 1: History of Johannes Ev., 1473–1478
  • 2: Biblical scenes from the Old Testament, formerly in the apse, 15th century.
  • 3: Cain, Jacob and Moses, 1st half of the 16th century.
  • 4: above: Samson story, around 1450
  • 5: Scenes from the Old and New Testament, 15th century (partly heavily restored)
  • 6: St. Eligius (below) and Johannes Ev. (above), 16th century
  • 8: St. Agnes and Thekla, around 1860
  • 9: St. Hll. Gervasius and Protasius, 1844; Apostle Jacobus d. Ä., 1565
  • 10: St. Jacobus maior, 1548
  • 11–13: St. Giovanni Bono, 1842
  • 14: St. Catherine of Alexandria, 1438–1450 (not "1556"!)
  • 15: St. Martin, 17th century


  • 19: New Testament, after 1416, added
  • 20: Apocalypse, after 1402
  • 21: Old Testament, based on drafts from 1380 (?)

North side

  • 25: St. John of Damascus, 1492 (with six medallions above and next to it, depicting Avicenna , among others ).
  • 26: St. Charles Borromeo, 1910
  • 27-29: Marienleben, 1840-1843
  • 30: St. Catherine of Siena, 1562
  • 31. The Apostles, 1567
  • 32: St. Ambrose, 19th century
  • 33: Biblical Stenen, 15th century
  • 34: Finding the Holy Cross, 1461 and 1571
  • 35: Marian themes, 1566
  • 36: The Four Crowned , around 1560–70
  • 37: Archangel Michael, 1939
  • 38: Restored fragments from the 15th century.
  • 39: King David, 1939

Interior facade

  • 40: St. Thecla among the lions, mid-19th century.
  • 41: below: St. Ambrose rejects the bishop's mantle, mid-19th century, above: Synagoga, 1955
  • 42: below: Allegory of the church, mid-19th century; above: St. Charles Borromeo, 1955
  • 43: Archangel Michael, mid-19th century.
  • 45: below: Assumption of the Virgin, mid-19th century; above: Trinity, 1955

Cathedral treasure

The cathedral treasure houses treasures of considerable value, including a silver capsule that Ambrose of Milan received from the Pope in the 4th century.

Meridian line

In the Duomo of Milan a brass meridian line is embedded in the floor. The light of the sun falls on this line through a small hole in the vault and forms a small light spot on the floor. Since the highest point of the sun and the true noon change in the course of the year, the circle moves seasonally on the line and the time of the highest point of the sun depends on the date: On July 22nd, the circle is on the meridian line at 1.30 p.m.

Dimensions and numbers

  • External length: 158 m
  • Width (over transept): 93 m
  • Height of the central nave: 46.80 m
  • Height outside to the head of the Madonna: 108.5 m
  • Width of the facade: 61.5 m
  • Height of the facade: 56 m
  • Total area: 12,000 m²
  • Interior area: 8000 m²
  • around 3500 sculptures
  • 158 steps lead to the roof
  • The capacity of the cathedral is given as 35,000 people.


Prospectus of the south organ

The first organ of the Milan Cathedral was commissioned in 1395 and installed in 1397. The north organ was built between 1533 and 1577, with twelve registers on a manual with 50 keys. In 1583 the construction of the south organ was commissioned, which was completed in 1590 and replaced the older instrument from 1397. The paintings on the case of the south organ are remarkable. They show u. a. Scenes from the Old and New Testament .

Over the years, these two instruments were repeatedly expanded, rebuilt and finally completely redesigned between 1985 and 1986 by the organ building company Tamburini . The entire organ system consists of several sub-organs that can be played from a common console . The entire organ system today has 186 sounding stops with around 16,000 pipes on five manual works and correspondingly assigned independent pedal works, making it one of the largest organs in the world. The actions are electric. The instrument has the following disposition :

II Grande Organo (North)
Principals 32 ′
Principals I 16 ′
Principale major 8th'
Principale diapason 8th'
Ottava forte 4 ′
XII 2 23
XV 2 ′
XIX 1 13
Ripieno X
Bordone 8th'
Flauto in ottava 4 ′
Flauto in XV 2 ′
Cornetto IV
Tuba forte sonorità
Tuba major 8th'
Clarinetto 8th'
Tromba armonica 8th'
Trombina 4 ′
II Grande Organo (South)
Principals II 16 ′
Principale violone 16 ′
Principale forte 8th'
Ottava 4 ′
XII 2 23
XV 2 ′
Ripieno X
Flauto aperto 8th'
Flauto ottaviante
Flauto in XVII 1 35
Viola armonica 8th'
Viola umana 8th'
Tromba 16 ′
Tromba 8th'
Pedal (Grande O. Nord)
Acustico 64 ′
Principals 32 ′
Principals 16 ′
Subbasso 16 ′
Principals 8th'
Bordone 8th'
Ottava 4 ′
Bordoncino 4 ′
Controfagotto 16 ′
Pedal (Grande O. South)
Contrabbasso 32 ′
Contrabbasso 16 ′
Gran Quinta 10 23
Basso forte 8th'
Quinta 5 13
Controbombarda 32 ′
Bombarda 16 ′
Tromba 8th'
Clarone forte 4 ′
I positivo
Princ. violone 16 ′
Principals I 8th'
Principals II 8th'
Gemshorn 8th'
Ottava 4 ′
XII 2 23
XV-XIX 2 ′
Ripieno V
Ripieno VI
Bordone 16 ′
Flauto a camino 8th'
Flauto conico 8th'
Flauto doppio 4 ′
Nasardo 2 23
Flagioletto 2 ′
Terza di Nasardo 1 35
Piccolo 1'
Viola da gamba 8th'
Fugara 4 ′
Salicionale 8th'
Unda maris 8th'
Corno di bassetto 16 ′
Corno inglese 8th'
Tuba mirabilis 8th'
Tromba armonica 8th'
Chiarina 4 ′
III Recitativo espressivo
Principale poor. 16 ′
Principals 8th'
Principale diapason 8th'
Eufonio 8th'
Ottava 4 ′
XV 2 ′
Mixture III
Sharp III
Zimbel II
Bordone 8th'
Flauto in selva 4 ′
Flauto ottaviante 4 ′
Fonino 4 ′
Flauto in XII 2 23
Flautino 2 ′
Larigot 1 13
Controgamba 16 ′
Flauto celeste 8th'
Viola d'orchestra 8th'
Salicet 4 ′
Concerto violini IV
Gran concerto viole
Controtuba 16 ′
Tromba di corno 8th'
tuba 8th'
oboe 8th'
Cornamusa 8th'
tuba 4 ′
Corale angelica II
III. Organo corale
Principals 8th'
Ottava 4 ′
XV 2 ′
Ripieno IV
Flauto a camino 8th'
Bordone 8th'
Cimbalino II
Principalino 4 ′
Ottava 2 ′
violoncello 8th'
IV Solo
Principals 16 ′
Principale stentor 8th'
Principalino 4 ′
Mixture VI
Quintante 16 ′
Flauto a camino 8th'
Tibia major 4 ′
Flauto in quinta 5 13
Flauto ottaviante 4 ′
Big tierce 3 15
Squillante 2 ′
Sexquialtera II
Gamba serafona 8th'
Armonica 8th'
Fugara 4 ′
Flauto solista 8th'
Viola celeste 8th'
Coro d'archi 5 ′
Corno orchestral 8th'
Corno inglese 8th'
Tuba trionfale 8th'
Cornetto di fanfara 5 13
Chiarina 4 ′
V Eco espressivo
Principale aperto 8th'
Principale conico 8th'
Ottava armonica 4 ′
Voce angelica 8th'
Armonia eterea V
Gemshorn 16 ′
Corno di notte 8th'
Flauto silvestre 4 ′
Flauto in XII 2 23
Flautino 2 ′
Viola d'amore 8th'
Concerto violini IV
Corno francese 8th'
Oboe d'eco 8th'
Pedal (I. Manual)
Principals 24 ′
Contrabbasso 16 ′
Violone 16 ′
Subbasso 16 ′
Basso Armonico 8th'
Ottava 4 ′
Corno Bassetto 16 ′
Tromba 8th'
Clarino 2 ′
Pedal (III.Manual)
Principale poor. 16 ′
Basso violone 16 ′
Subbasso 16 ′
Bordone 8th'
violoncello 8th'
Fugara 4 ′
Controtuba 16 ′
tuba 8th'
Subbasso 16 ′
Bordone 8th'
Basso 8th'
Clarone 4 ′
Pedal (IV. Manual)
Principals 24 ′
Principale stentor 16 ′
Tibia 16 ′
Armonica 16 ′
Basso forte 8th'
Principalino 8th'
Tuba profonda 16 ′
tuba 8th'
Trombina 4 ′
Pedal (V. Manual)
Flauto 16 ′
Basso d'eco 8th'
Flauto 4 ′

The cathedral in literature

“What a miracle it is! So great, so serious, so huge! And still so fine, so airy, so graceful! A world of solid weight, and yet it seems ... a delusion of an ice sculpture that could vanish in one breath! ... The central of its five large doors is bordered by a bas-relief of birds and fruits and beasts and insects, which are so ingeniously carved from the marble that they resemble living beings - and the figures are so numerous and the design so complicated, that one could study it for a week without exhausting one's interest ... wherever a niche or support can be found on the enormous building from top to bottom there is a marble statue, and each statue is a study in itself ... Far above, on the high roof, row after row of carved and sawed-out turrets high in the air, and through their rich wickerwork you can see the sky above ... Up on the roof, which rises ... from its wide marble tiles, were long rows of Turrets that looked very tall up close, but shrank in the distance ... We could now see that the statues on top of each were the size of a tall man Even though they all looked like dolls from the street ... They say that Milan's cathedral is only second to St. Peter's in Rome. I can't understand how the cathedral can come second to anything man-made. "

- Mark Twain in the summer of 1867



  • Claudia Converso: Milan - Churches, Museums and Monuments. Edizioni Kina, Milan, 1995, pp. 8-15.
  • Angelo Ciceri: The Milan Cathedral. Historical overview and guided tour. Milan Cathedral Factory, 1965.
  • Heinz Schomann: Art monuments in western northern Italy. Lombardy, Piedmont, Liguria, Aosta Valley. Picture manual, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1987, ISBN 978-3-534-03144-3 , pp. 410-412.

Web links

Commons : Milan Cathedral  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Schomann, p. 411, fig. 171.
  2. ^ Heinz Schomann: Art monuments in western northern Italy. Darmstadt 1987, p. 410
  3. Martin Hürlimann: The Trivulzio candelabra, a masterpiece of early Gothic sculpture. Atlantis, Zurich 1949.
  4. ^ Gotthard Strohmaier : Avicenna. A Muslim in the church window .
  5. Luigi Belloni: The Guild of Milan Pharmacists and the stained glass window of St. John the Damascus in the Cathedral of Milan. In: Otto Baur, Otto Glandien (Ed.): Connection. Festschrift for Marielene Putscher. 2 volumes. Wienand, Cologne 1984, Volume 1, pp. 177-188.
  6. Video on
  7. All dimensions from Ciceri, p. 20.
  8. Ciceri, p. 23.
  9. Carlo Holes: manuals dell'Organista. Is. Ed. Cisalpino-Goliardica, Milano 1982.
  10. Mark Twain: The Innocents Abroad and Roughing It. Chapter 18; ISBN 0-940450-25-9

Coordinates: 45 ° 27 ′ 51 ″  N , 9 ° 11 ′ 27 ″  E