"Indivisible and sacrosanct trinity – by virtue of the vivified Cross – for the merits and prayers – of the glorious and immaculate Virgin Mary – and of the Saintly Pontiffs Ambrose and Charles – the relics of which we place herein – preserve our city – distance us from the force of the adversary – and from the presence of every ill and every sin – on the peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ."
With these words written as an epigraph, on 25 July 1939 Cardinal Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster, the Archbishop of Milan at the time, saluted the completion of the Madonnina's restoration, placing this inscription within the structure of the statue in correspondence with the position of the heart. Several relics of the Cross and of Saints Ambrose and Charles were placed alongside it. On that distant day in July, the Cardinal, accompanied by several of the Cathedral's officials and other priests, climbed the great scaffolding and the stairs of the Duomo's Main Spire to admire the Madonnina from up close and, on occasion of the work completed by the Veneranda Fabbrica, reaffirm the Virgin's guardianship of Milan, perhaps an omen of the terrible events that would shortly thereafter afflict the city with the start of WWII.
The restoration’s official inauguration was held the following 7 September, when at 6pm the Archbishop, accompanied by the city's authorities, including the President of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, Giuseppe De Capitani D’Arzago, climbed up to the Cathedral's terraces to bless the statue which had been returned to its original splendour. To celebrate the occasion the Veneranda Fabbrica had special lighting designed for the statue.
With these beautiful and rare images depicting these moments, from the Archives of the Veneranda Fabbrica, we wish to pay tribute to the memory of Cardinal Schuster, beatified by John Paul II in 1996, who found himself involved in the greatest pestilence of his time: the tragedy of a conflict of terrifying magnitude, becoming himself a reference point for all of the city and renewing the tradition of the great archbishops of Milan.
Several weeks after these photos were taken, a grey-green cloth was draped over the Madonnina so as to avoid her becoming a target for Allied bombers, thus depriving the people of Milan of her gaze for five long years. A distressing symbol of the darkness of the times, which, on Sunday 6 May 1945, the same Cardinal Schuster, once again climbing the steps to the terraces and to the Main Spire, put an end to when he finally removed the rough, dark cloth, once again making the Madonnina visible to the city and to the world.
Perhaps they were all prophetic gestures. 63 years after Schuster's death, these are still living testaments to the great love and special dedication which he always had for this symbol of Milan.
Wednesday 30 August 2017, at 5.30 pm in the Duomo, a Holy Mass will be celebrated in memory of the blessed cardinal.