In the Annals of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano, on 23 February 1471 a payment of L.24 to Maestro Gothardo de Schotis is registered for the painted panel “quae majestas appellatur Idea, quae portatur in singulis annis in festo purificationis dominae sanctae Mariae virginis, quae est die 2 februarii, ad Sanctam Mariam Beltradem per venerabiles dominos ordinarios ecclesiae majoris Mediolani secundum consuetudinem”. The panel mentioned "seems to have disappeared", but the Idea that is carried in procession on 2 February to this very day and that references the ancient ritual of Candlemas, is the work of Michele da Besozzo and dates back to 1428 (attribution and dating confirmed by recent restorations), the only surviving work for the Duomo. The term Idea, for which the simulacrum is named, appears under the effigy of the Virgin Mary created by Michelino and Leonardo da Besozzo circa 1428. It is a triangular cusp-shaped panel that is part of the Duomo's collection and is today preserved in the Grande Museo. It may be a reproduction of the previous ones that were destroyed with age. This one is painted on both sides and enclosed in a golden frame that is much more recent and with Gothic inlays. On one side the panel depicts the "Madonna and Child enthroned" surrounded by angels supporting a soft drapery, and on the other the "Presentation of Jesus at the Temple" set within simple Gothic architecture, with the Holy Family gathered in the centre, while two elders, Simone and Anna (protagonists of the Gospel event honoured during this festival: Luke 2, 22-40) are on the sides.
Among scholars, the origin of the name “Idea” has been much debated. According to some, the name is derived directly from the pagan cult of the Magna Mater Idea, or Cybele, mother of the gods, in honour of whom processions were held in antiquity to invoke the fertility of the earth. This would then be the "Christianisation" of ancient pagan rituals through the substitution of the name Cybele with that of the true Idea, Mother of God, Mary Most Blessed Virgin. Other scholars have found this explanation to be unconvincing and propose that the term "Idea" be interpreted according to its Greek etymology, "eidon", corresponding simply to "image".
The procession mentioned by Beroldo in “Beroldus sine ecclesiae ambrosianae mediolanensis Kalendarium et ordines saec. XII” around 1300, is the secular ritual of the Festival of Candles, a Marian procession celebrated on 2 February, often referred as “Candlemas”, which a precious bas-relief (dating from the second half of the 12th century) preserved at the Sforza Castle Archaeological Museum allows us to recreate just as it was performed in the Middle Ages. This piece depicts two priests bearing a cusp-shaped effigy of the Virgin Mary, a cleric with a stational cross, a deacon carrying the Book of the Gospels, the Archbishop with mitre and pastoral staff, and lastly the Cathedral's clergy with lit candles. The procession entailed the transport of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore's icon of the Madonna dell'Idea to the Chiesa di Santa Maria Beltrade for the winter mass in the cathedral. Now the procession begins from the altar of the Madonna of the Tree: here the candles distributed to the canons and the faithful are blessed. A large candle is also placed on the top of the Idea's pointed arch, a remnant of the ancient custom of decorating the cross or sacred images with lit candles as a sign of celebration and honour. As the procession passes through the Duomo's naves, the Idea is carried on a special platform on the shoulders of two deacons and, at the end, remains displayed at the high altar during the Eucharist liturgy.
This evening at 5:30pm in the Duomo, Archbishop Cardinal S.Em.za will preside over the Eucharist during the Festival of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus (World Day for Consecrated Life) at the end of the blessing of the candles and of the procession with the effigy of the Madonna dell'Idea