I haven’t yet had the pleasure of visiting the city of Milan, let alone seeing its famous Gothic Cathedral (called a “duomo” in Italian) of Santa Maria Nascente in person. Yet I was impressed to read that the Archdiocese is taking advantage of social media for something which Europeans, and particularly the Church, often lag behind on when it comes to the digital age, and that is turning to crowdfunding to achieve a fundraising goal. In this case, a charitable organization called The International Patrons of the Duomo di Milano is mounting an effort to restore the Cathedral, and part of that effort has a special significance for Americans.
The Milanese Duomo has been compared to many things, with its masses of spires pointing up into the sky, but perhaps one of the most apt descriptions is that it looks rather like an ornate wedding cake, full of spun sugar confectionery decorations. Because the church took over 600 years to complete, the range of saints depicted in its exterior ornamental statuary is quite vast, covering centuries of Church history. One of the saints featured is St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917), who played an important part in the establishment of the education system of this country, and is the first American citizen to be canonized a saint.
Born in Lombardy, the region of Italy dominated by Milan, Mother Cabrini arrived in New York in 1889 as a missionary. She spent the rest of her life founding schools, orphanages, and hospitals across the country, and became an American citizen in 1909. As a result, she is not only popular with many Italian-Americans, whom she and her sisters ministered to when they began arriving in huge waves of immigration at Ellis Island and elsewhere, but also back in her native Italy, where her devotion to her fellow Italians who had to leave for America due to extreme poverty is well-remembered. It made sense then, that the largest cathedral in her native region of Lombardy would honor her with a statue on its facade.
The gourmet Italian food purveyors Eataly have come on board with the effort to restore the Duomo, and have just opened an exhibit at their New York flagship store featuring actual architectural elements from the Duomo itself, including gargoyles, statues, and other carvings. Those of my readers in the New York area should take advantage of the opportunity to drop in and see these works, since many of them are placed so high on the Cathedral that normally they are only for the eyes of birds – and God, of course. The exhibition is free, and will remain open until May 2015.
In the case of the St. Frances Xavier Cabrini spire of the Duomo, the hope is to raise the $188,000 restoration cost by December 22nd, the anniversary of her death. So many Italian-Americans owe their very lives to the fact that Mother Cabrini and her sisters took care of their ancestors when they arrived in this country a century or more ago, I hope that those among my readers of Italian heritage will consider contributing to this effort, and sharing it with those whom you think might be interested.
Moreover, even if you are neither Italian nor Catholic, but happen to love great art and architecture, the Duomo di Milano is simply one of the finest buildings in the world. It is not only the symbol of the city of Milan, it is a stunning example of the flowering of Gothic architecture and, I would argue, the most sumptuous, important Gothic building in all of Italy. The effort to preserve and restore this ornate and glorious building for future generations is something that anyone who appreciates history and Western culture can surely appreciate.