The linguistically challenged person that I am, I have a mono linguist’s habit of reading everything in English, regardless of the language it is actually written in. Fine is always simply fine and never finished. Worst will always be badder than bad and never a sausage. Die will always be an invocation to pass on and never simply ‘that one’. And as for bra? It may be good in Swedish and Norwegian, but I have days when I hate it.
I see a word in a foreign language that reminds me of something and that’s it. It’s etched in my brain…permanently. The Hungarian word for certificate or award – oklevél – will always have me wondering why anyone would want to show the world their bare essentials – their okay level certificate. How embarrassing. So, when in Milan, and passing one of the hundreds of signs around the city that tell passengers that the tram they’re on will pass the d’uomo, I immediately thought ‘dome’.
What’s worse – I managed to convince myself than when I’d been in the city a number of years ago on my way to the Alps (a magical trip where time literally stood still – but that’s another story) and had taken the time to visit this must-see , it had indeed been a massive dome-shaped building. No question of it. Not a doubt in my mind.
I’d been there. I’d seen it. And if we happened to pass by it again, great. But I wasn’t going out of my way to find it. I had more interesting things to do. But as fate would have it, stumble across it we did. Imagine my surprise… not a dome in sight.
Milan Cathedral is gobsmackingly big. I can well believe that it took six centuries to complete and is the fifth largest cathedral in the world. Building began in 1386 and the last gate was inaugurated in 1965. So, technically, we’re nearly the same age but that was one helluva gestation.
Having taken so long to build, it’s understandable that the numerous architects involved would have drawn from many different schools (ask me and the best I could come up with is Gothic). Curious, I checked it out and found this quote by John Ruskin who reckoned it steals from every style in the world: and every style spoiled. The cathedral is a mixture of Perpendicular with Flamboyant, the latter being peculiarly barbarous and angular, owing to its being engrafted, not on a pure, but a very early penetrative Gothic … The rest of the architecture among which this curious Flamboyant is set is a Perpendicular with horizontal bars across: and with the most detestable crocketing, utterly vile. Not a ray of invention in a single form… Finally the statues all over are of the worst possible common stonemasons’ yard species, and look pinned on for show. The only redeeming character about the whole being the frequent use of the sharp gable … which gives lightness, and the crowding of the spiry pinnacles into the sky.
Be that as it may, John (and we’re all entitled to our opinion), you have to admit that it’s awesome – in the truest sense of the world. Apparently Oscar Wilde, when visiting the city in 1875, wrote home to his mother saying: The Cathedral is an awful failure. Outside the design is monstrous and inartistic. The over-elaborated details stuck high up where no one can see them; everything is vile in it; it is, however, imposing and gigantic as a failure, through its great size and elaborate execution.
While I’m quite fond of Mr Wilde as a rule, I can’t agree. Yes, I prefer plain crystal to that that’s heavily embellished. I like simple patterns, minimal clutter, clean lines and were this, say, a wedding cake, I’d refuse a slice even if I was starving. But as an edifice that literally dwarfs everything around it, it’s … amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever stood in the shadow of somewhere that made ants of us all.
I didn’t go in. Sure hadn’t I see it before 🙂 But if you’re in Milan and have an hour or two to spare, it’s worth dropping in. Entry is free. A lift to the view tower will set you back €12 or, if you fancy the walk, €7. Plenty of priests on hand to give last rites should they be required. It’s all coming back to me know… the last time I DID WALK UP TO THE TOP… honestly!