The Duomo of Milan is undoubtly the main tourist attraction of Milan. With its 3400 statues, the many artistic treasures and the enchanting Golden Madonna, is the second largest catholic cathedral in Europe after the cathedral of Seville and is for sure the first place to visit.
Unfortunately, what is not mentioned in tourist guides, are the origins of these majestic cathedral.
Starting from ancient history and leaving behind the Etruscans, Milan has to thank the Gauls for the foundations of the famous Duomo. In fact, they were the first to consider this area a sacred soil. In what, at the time, was supposed to be a clearing, they had built a sacred oak temple.
The sacred temple dedicated to the Celtic goddess Belisama, protector of a land rich in water and telluric energy, was the place where the clan leaders of the Celtic Confederation would be reunited.
After the conquest of the Romans, this sacred temple changed the divinity it was dedicated to but not its sacredness: it was romanized and dedicated to Minerva, the roman goddess of war and wisdom.
Another jump in history, another religion. With the edict of Milan and its Christianization, the pagan temple was transformed into a church dedicated to Santa Tecla, more or less around the 4th century.
As you can see the soil was still considered sacred but religions changed the name of the protector.
Santa Tecla had its baptistery, dedicated to San Giovanni alle Fonti (it’s situated in the rear of the Duomo). According to the legend, St. Augustine was baptized here by Bishop Ambrose.
A little further ahead of Santa Tecla was then built a larger church, Santa Maria Maggiore, that was supposed to be a winter church, judging by its dimensions.
So where does the Duomo fits in all this?
Well, in 452 Santa Tecla was burned down by the raids of the Huns. In 1075, there has been another fire. No matter the restaurations, the church was then considered too unsafe and it was demolished in 1459.
So the Duomo of Milan was later built on its ashes. As you can see, like with many other churches, the story stays the same: on ancient pagan temples, now there are churches.
It was only during the subway excavations, that has been possible to understand the history behind the Duomo.
If you want to, you can still visit the San Giovanni Baptistery and see how Santa Tecla was (more or less) 🙂
Let’s thank the Celtics for recognizing this sacred soil 🙂
P.S. If you’re planning a trip to Milan, please download the mini guide that I’ve written for you. It’s full of important advices to avoid scams that sadly take place also here. Thank You!