La Cattedrale


ita / eng

Published by Perimetro


The story goes that the wooden ship on which the mythical Greek hero Theseus traveled was preserved intact over the years, replacing its parts as they gradually deteriorated. Thus there came a time when all the parts originally used to build it had been replaced, although the ship itself retained exactly its original form. Thinking about such a situation (the ship was completely replaced, but at the same time the ship remained Theseus' ship), the question that can be asked is: was Theseus' ship preserved or not? That is, is the entity (the ship), changed in substance but unchanged in form, still precisely the same entity? Or does it only resemble it?
The construction of Milan Cathedral began in 1386 by order of Bishop Antonio da Saluzzo. He decided, after a bell tower collapsed, to replace the twin cathedrals of Santa Tecla and Santa Maria Maggiore with a new temple dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente. In a short time the Visconti family, one of Italy's oldest noble families, took over the undertaking. The resulting Cathedral is still the largest church in Italy today. Gian Galeazzo Visconti decided that the only marble that could be used for its construction should be from Candoglia, a quarry in Piedmont. It has been completely allocated to the cathedral, which has exclusive use of it.
The marble is almost entirely composed of calcium carbonate. This chemical compound is responsible for its white, lustrous color and is the reason it has been considered a precious material throughout history. At the same time, however, it is responsible for an 'additional characteristic of marble: it undergoes decomposition when it encounters acidic substances. This problem affects all marble, but Candoglia marble having a macrocrystalline structure and the presence of particularly alterable levels of accessory minerals is particularly affected. Acid rain, weathering and biological agents alter the marble over the years, making decorative details illegible and affecting the stability of ornate and sculptural elements, necessitating VFD intervention. The monitoring work begins on the Cathedral, which is inspected inch by inch twice a year. The elements to be replaced are removed and taken to the Marble Yard. Here the Candoglia marble is also brought in, which is pre-processed by numerically controlled machines in order to give it a rough shape. Then the piece is finished by hand by marble craftsmen, who work on it for months before sending it back to the Duomo to be reassembled in place of the worn piece. Much of Milan Cathedral has now been replaced.
What we see is no longer the original: it is the exact copy.