Pre-fabricated buildings and construction with pre-engineered components much like fast food and AstroTurf moves us further away from the source of the natural materials that once made up the surroundings of our lives. Today most of our foundations are built on the synthetic and disposable with little regard for what nourishes our bodies, minds, spirits . . . and communities.
Once upon a time this wasn’t so. Buildings were made of rock and stone and you knew where those materials came from. On October 24th 1387, Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan gave the “Fabbrica del Duomo” the Candoglia marble quarries in the Italian Piemonte to use as a source of material for the construction of Milan’s Duomo, one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Italy and Europe.
Located above the commune of Mergozzo, on the left bank of the Toce River at the mouth of the Val d’Ossola, the quarried pink-hued white marble streaked with grey (rosa candoglia) is of Paleozoic origin and still used today for maintenance and restoration work on the cathedral. The only tools used to cut the marble were iron picks, cudgels (a short heavy stick), drills, wedges and crowbars and the only way down the mountain was by way of a very risky series of ropes and pulleys. The marble, stamped ad usum fabricae ambrosianae (material for the construction of the cathedral of Milan), was then loaded on to flatboats on the Toce River and transported by horse drawn barges known as cagnone, to Milan along Lake Maggiore and the Naviglio Grande.
Milan’s Duomo took more than 500 years to complete. It is 515 feet long, 302 feet wide and 148 feet in height. There are 5 naves divided by 40 pillars with a capacity of 40,000. Inspiring and impressive, the art and altars, statues (3,400 inside and out), stained glass and reliquary of Milan’s domus Dei make it one of the greatest churches in the world. It is the heart of Milan’s cultural and social life and the strength of the marble, skill of the stonecutter, architects and artisans who worked on it have created a priceless treasure that endures.