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Eco della Stampa, 1954: the scoop of the “leaning Madonnina”

In the Archive of Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, cuttings of period dailies reveal an interesting event that marked the beginning of the partnership with the Milan Polytechnic University

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18 June Jun 2019 1744 18 June 2019

A thorough research conducted on issues of Eco della Stampa in the early 1900s, catalogued and preserved in the newly established Archive of Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano, can offer many surprises for both readers and scholars consulting the documents. Here’s an example.

Piazza Duomo no. 31, summer 1954: the windows frame the massive marble Cathedral. After his usual distracted glance at the spire adorned by the golden Madonnina, Architect Walter Ronchi started suspecting that the Main Spire was not precisely vertical. Mistrusting this impression, the architect began monitoring the inclination of the spire over the subsequent days and weeks. He invited colleagues, friends, artists and engineers to see it, exploring every perspective or visual angle, and developing his belief that the main spire of Duomo di Milano presented an unusual inclination.

On 10 June 1954, Ronchi wrote a letter to Architect Zacchi, Superintendent of Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, inviting him to perform some precise surveys to test these impressions. The Superintendent soon replied, thanking him for the alert and reassuring Ronchi that surveys would assuredly be carried out, and that he would be informed about the outcome.

In July 1954, increasingly worried, Ronchi unwisely decided to contact the Press, thus causing the explosion of what was termed a “bomb” in period newspapers, causing a stir in the city. Actually, Architect Zacchi reassured the Milanese, specifying that, despite the thousands of daily visitors, the marble of the Main Spire was in perfect conditions and no cracks had been noticed in the spire.

The cusp, with a height of ca. 15 m starting from the octagonal balcony, was perfectly anchored to its base. Only the keys of the rods were slightly rusty but would soon be replaced. Soon after that, Zacchi arranged an emergency survey with a plumb line and recorded the inclinations with centimetre precision for each side of the octagon, reporting the reassuring outcome that, however, lacked precision. Hence, he established that the recorders inside the spire should be placed back there and, especially, that a committee of technicians from the Milan Polytechnic University would be appointed to perform accurate checks and rigorous measurements.

The complex and delicate nature of the problem detected sanctioned an important partnership between Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo and the Milan Polytechnic, an uninterrupted cooperation that was reconfirmed with a new agreement on 27 May 2015.

In fact, an agreement for a three-year scientific partnership was signed for Expo Milano 2015. Following the impressive renovation works implemented to present the Duomo in all its splendour for the international Exhibition, Veneranda Fabbrica’s first thought was preservation, an activity that will never cease and which presupposes continuous interventions on the Monument, the symbol of Milan in the world.