The Rite of the Nivola, an ancient tradition in the Duomo
The triduum of the Holy Nail
Milan Cathedral houses one of the most important relics of Christianity: a nail from the True Cross.
The Holy Nail has been kept in the current Cathedral since 20 March 1461, when it was solemnly transferred from the old, “summer” basilica of Santa Tecla, already in the process of being demolished, to the new and larger Cathedral, still under construction in the area that the “winter” basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore had occupied.
The devotion to the Holy Nail, whose presence has been continuously documented in the Milanese Cathedral since the end of the 14th century up to the present day, has never waned in the Ambrosian people, but was encouraged above all by Archbishop Charles Borromeo, who inaugurated the enchanting Rite of the Nivola and introduced the Procession with the celebrated Relic of the Lord’s Passion. In fact, he wanted the Procession with the Holy Nail to be repeated every year on 3 May, feast day of the Finding of the Holy Cross, in accordance with the ancient liturgical calendar. However, the worshippers’ attention was concentrated on the initial part of the ceremony, that of taking the Relic. In fact, it was – and still is – preserved in a tabernacle (marked always by a red light) situated atop the Duomo’s internal vault, in an eminent place, almost inaccessible except for a unique “machine” called the Nivola. This name, which comes from the Milanese dialect word for the Italian “nuvola” meaning cloud, describes a sort of “lift”, in the shape of a cloud and decorated with painted canvases, statues of angels, and drapery (its current form dates back to 1624), and it is the only way to reach the tabernacle that contains the Holy Nail. The Nivola was also used to replace the precious Relic back in its tabernacle at the end of celebration on 5 May.
Nowadays, with the new liturgical order, the feast day on 3 May in honour of the Cross has been discontinued and so the Triduum of the Holy Nail, with the Rite of the Nivola, has been restored, also following the long and complex consolidation work on the tiburio, and now falls on the three days (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday) closest to 14 September, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. On this occasion, at the beginning of Saturday Vespers, the reliquary containing the Relic is taken down using the Nivola, which is then inserted into a large, gilded, wooden cross and shown to the people. The Procession, which in Saint Charles’s time at the Duomo reached as far as the nearby church of San Sepolcro, is now held exclusively inside the Cathedral, at the end of Sunday Vespers. Finally, on the Monday evening, following a new “ascension”, the Holy Nail is placed back in its tabernacle that watches from above over the altar and the whole Cathedral.
This year, the Triduum will be celebrated from Saturday 17th to Monday 19th September.
Vespers presided over by Archbishop Monsignor Mario Delpini (Saturday, 17 September at 3pm), the Capitular Mass (Sunday, 18 September at 11am), and the closing Triduum celebration (Monday, 19 September at 5.30pm) can be followed in live streaming on this site (www.duomomilano.it) from the YouTube channel Duomo Milano Tv.
TRIDUUM OF THE HOLY NAIL
SATURDAY 17 SEPTEMBER
- 3pm Vespers presided over by His Excellency Monsignor Archbishop, Rite of the Nivola, exposition of the Holy Nail and Prayer for Peace in Ukraine
- 5.30pm Vigil mass
SUNDAY 18 SEPTEMBER
Eucharistic Celebrations 7am - 8am - 9.30am - 11am – 12.30pm - 5.30pm
- 10.25am Morning Lauds
- 11am Capitular Mass
- 4pm Vespers and the Procession of the Holy Nail
MONDAY 19 SEPTEMBER
Eucharistic Celebrations at 7am - 8am - 11am – 5.30pm
- 5.30pm Capitular Mass and Vespers,
Rite of the Nivola and repositioning of the Holy Nail
We remind you that access to Milan Duomo for prayer, services and the sacraments is completely free.
Free entry through the side door of the Duomo (transcept of San Giovanni Bono)
Every day: 6,50-8.30am
Free entry through the façade (north door)
Every day: 8am-6,30pm (last entry 6.10pm)