Spires, Crypts, and a Bit of Gratitude


I awoke today realizing that I take my health for granted. More specifically, I take good health for granted. In general, I feel pretty good, I move pretty well, and I rarely get sick. Today’s post was delayed because I was ill last night, which meant limited sleep and that I was still not feeling well this morning.

What is it to not feel well? It colors everything. Motivation. Humor. Warmth. Interest. Attitude. As humans, we are beset with ailments that slow us down, create discomfort, and sometimes knock us down. Whenever I come face to face with illness that knocks me down, I am reminded of the struggles that many people face on a day-to-day basis. Chronic suffering impinges on every facet of life and my heart goes out to those who wake up every day facing that battle.

As I write this, I feel better and am so very grateful for that. Today is a good day to consider all of the things I take for granted and my need to put gratitude front and center.

Duomo Arigato

Does anyone remember the song, Mr. Roboto, by Styx? Forgive the title of this section but I think of Mr. Roboto every time I say or hear “duomo.” We started our day with a wonderful breakfast at a more American style restaurant right around the corner. What does that mean? It means eggs (scrambled & over easy), toast, orange juice, and coffee.

Today’s only commitment was our 2pm ticket to the Milan Cathedral, the Duomo di Milano. The day promised rain so we put on the rain jackets, bought a couple of umbrellas, and decided to explore the area until our 2pm entry time.

First of all, the Milan Cathedral is surrounded by Milan’s version of 5th Avenue. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a massive “shopping mall” that is situated along the north side of the Duomo. Like the Galleria we visited in Naples, this one was covered with large open air entries on each side. However, Milan’s Galleria was much larger and held every conceivable fashion brand: Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Ferrari, MontBlanc, etc. as well as numerous jewelry stores and cafes.

Along the streets all around the Duomo are more shops and restaurants. The Duomo leaps dramatically to the sky in the middle of all of the commerce and the piazza was full of people taking photos and milling about. The intermittent rain did little to discourage the sightseers and everywhere we went was full of people.

Our first stop was the Duomo Museum which housed many pieces of art from the Cathedral as well as many small statutes from the exterior. The museum was dimly lit and winding our way through it was a journey of time and story. An important thing to remember about the sculptures, friezes, panels, and paintings in these churches is that they were crafted to tell stories of faith to a population that was mostly illiterate. To the untrained eye, much of it looks random but each work was created with significant storytelling intention.

Into the Sky, Into the Past

When it came time to enter the Duomo, our assigned gate happened to be the “lift” to the terraces which put us on top of the Cathedral, just a little short of the 354 feet height of its tallest spires. The Duomo was designed to have people moving about on top of it, marble stairs up and marble panels covered the roof area of the Cathedral. Getting up close and personal, we were able to see the unbelievable detail on the statues, spires, and intricate flying buttresses. Bellisimo!

Another interesting aspect of the Duomo is the statue of the Virgin Mary standing at the pinnacle of the central spire. The “Madonnina” is a polychrome statue in bright gold and added to the Cathedral in 1774. Tradition holds that no other building in Milan can be taller than the Madonnina – a tradition that has been upheld with taller skyscrapers by adding a small Madonnina statue to each one’s roof.

Descending the steps from the rooftop terraces, we entered the nave of the Duomo, an awe-inspiring work of design and architectural ingenuity that was begun in the 1300’s. The High Altar is framed by three massive gothic stained glass windows with each panel depicting a different biblical scene. The ceilings seem to arch to the sky and the capacious interior was airy and solemn.

I could go on and on about the Duomo but will focus on two remaining points of interest. The prime relic for the Cathedral of Milan is a nail from the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, now housed in a cross suspended hundreds of feet above the high altar. The nail is brought down twice a year for display. Below the High Altar is the crypt of St. Charles Borromeo, the Archbishop of Milan in the late 1500’s whose Feast Day is on November 4 – the birthday of Kellen Berry. Both the Cathedral of Milan and Charles Borromeo are worth some independent research if interested.

St. Ambrose

After finishing our tour of the Duomo, we walked 25 minutes to visit the Basilica of St. Ambrose. St. Ambrose served as the Bishop of Milan from 374-397 and is considered a Doctor of the Church for his extensive writings as well as his battles against Arianism and Paganism. Another key contribution of St. Ambrose was his role in converting and instructing St. Augustine in Christianity.

The Basilica of St. Ambrose is located in a neighborhood and the bell tower rises alongside apartment buildings in the area. The Basilica is not nearly as ornate as many of the churches built later but it is impressive in its own way. Dark stone and brick line its interior and the remains of St. Ambrose are on display in a crypt below the altar.


Our last stop of the day was for pizza at Sophia Loren’s Ristorante. We actually spent a few minutes talking about Sophia Loren and some movies we remembered – “Houseboat” starring Sophia Loren and Cary Grant was voted our favorite. The vibe and the food was ok but not nearly as interesting as Sophia herself. Sophia Loren was born in 1934 and is now 89.

Our journey is proving to be a wonderful combination of pilgrimage, history lesson, cultural exploration, and entertainment. The sights and sounds and tastes and sensations are, at times, a bit overwhelming. However, the sensory overload opens new pathways, brings new thoughts, and pushes curiosity a bit further. Yes, a wonderful combination.

Showing 2 comments
  • Gregg Stefanek

    In golf, when you hit a long putt that you think might go in the hole, we call that a Sophia Loren. It looked good for a long time 😁
    Glad you feel better!

  • Jarilyn Berry

    Incredible! And I know some of the pictures of these architectural masterpieces, while still beautiful, are so much more mind blowing in person.

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