|[The writer standing in front of Milan Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Emma Valgimigli]|
It has been almost a year since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Italy. Even though I am a devout Catholic, I didn’t go to the church for a while to avoid gathering. However, as the government of Lombardy eased the restriction from orange zone to yellow zone, involving the daytime reopening of bars and restaurants and allowance to travel in the region, I decided to go to attend the Mass in Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) with my friends.
The Gothic Cathedral of Milan, or Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica of the Nativity of Saint Mary, is the largest cathedral in Italy. The construction of Duomo started around the renaissance, approximately in 1386, when the style of Gothic architecture was a trend. The construction of the cathedral was finalized in the 20th century. Currently, continuous repair work is taking place in order to prevent the corrosion of the marbles.
|[The void holy water font in Milan Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Gaeun Lee]|
As we entered Duomo, we realized that the holy water font was empty. Catholics must put a droplet of holy water on their foreheads before entering the church for spiritual cleansing. It is a significant ritual for Catholics and this step has become a custom before praying. However, holy water has been removed from the font to prevent the spreading of coronavirus. So we had to enter the church without taking part in this pious step.
|[Before the Mass, the first half rows are blocked to maintain social distancing.
Photo courtesy of Francesco Ceresani]
The Cathedral was almost empty. There were only 15 people, including 6 policemen and us. Duomo has always maintained in silence even before the COVID-19, however, the atmosphere of Duomo seemed even more stagnated than usual. As the photo shows, the first half rows of the seats were blocked. We sat on the first row of the second half of the seats. On the seats, there were papers stating “Non siedere qui,” meaning “Do not sit here,” which enabled the distance between prayers. Even before the Mass, I felt as if I was completely isolated from my friends since I couldn’t whisper to them; I had to shout something to tell them which is implicitly prohibited. So we just stayed in silence, without doing anything, and simply waited for the Mass to start.
The Mass proceeded solemnly as usual, but all of the priests were wearing masks and keeping distance from each other. The procedure of the Mass was basically the same as before. The only thing that was a little different was when we sang the hymns. Have you ever sung in a large hall or empty church? When you sing in those places, the sound echoes. Singing in Duomo is even more special than other places. In Duomo, the resonance of sound makes you shudder. What’s more, believers sing the hymn based on their comfortable vocal range. For instance, my voice pitch is lower than the average woman, so I usually sing alto, which is the lowest female vocal range. The others, people singing soprano, mezzo soprano, tenor, baritone, or bass, harmonize with my voice. Our harmony eventually fills up the large hall of the Duomo. The people who first hear the hymn in Duomo often describe this harmony as “angels’ choir;” so did I when I first heard the harmonization of all the voices!
|[Massive stained glasses on the wall of Duomo. Photo courtesy of Gaeun Lee]|
Even after the Mass, we hesitated to leave the cathedral immediately. We wanted to walk around in the Duomo, but not the rooftop where we can see the delicate Gothic style of the towers of the Duomo and the giant gilded statue of Saint Mary, Madonnina. We didn’t decide to go to the rooftop of the Duomo, because there’s an additional fee to enter the rooftop. Moreover, it was freezing to go onto the rooftop. Perhaps, after the winter, we can visit the rooftop just to relax. Anyways, we just enjoyed the beautiful stained glasses on the wall and the gothic style of the Duomo.
Even though we saw the inside of the cathedral thousands of times, it is always refreshing to watch those delicate masterpieces. The photos that I took don't show the actual grandness and beauty of the cathedral. It is even harder to explain this feeling in words. Its beauty is always overwhelming, though the mood itself is ironically relaxing. From the time in the cathedral, we were consoled to overcome the difficult situation. There is a typical atmosphere in Duomo that consoles you that everything will go fine. It might be just an illusion that only we could feel since we are pious Catholics. But I can tell you that the hymn in the grand hall of the cathedral moves you. Yes, it is in Italian. You may find it difficult to understand, but the resonance of the harmony will hit you differently, perhaps at a level that you never experienced before.
American School of Milan
Gaeun Lee email@example.com
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