A valuable bas-relief, dating from the second half of the 12th century, from the ancient Church of Santa Maria Beltrade and now in the Museo Archeologico of the Sforza Castle, makes it possible for us to reconstruct the Marian Procession of 2nd February, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord at the Temple (known as Candelora according to the local tradition), as it took place in the Middle Ages. The piece depicts two priests carrying a cuspid-shaped effigy of Mary, a cleric with the stational cross, a deacon carrying the Book of the Gospels, the Archbishop with miter and pastoral staff, and lastly the clergy of the Cathedral holding lit candles. The name Idea appears under the effigy of Mary and so today, February the 2nd, in the Duomo, we celebrate the Procession of the Idea: a cuspid-shaped piece of wood that on one side (verso) depicts the Presentation of Jesus at the temple, with Mary and the elder Simeon and Anna (protagonists of the episode in the Gospel which this feast celebrates (Luke 2,22-40), and on the other side (recto) the Virgin on throne with Child. The piece is the work of Michelino da Besozzo and bares the date 1317.
There is no trace however of the tavola picta, commissioned – according to the Annals of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano (23 February 1471) – for the sum of L. 24 to Maestro Gothardo de Schotis.
Nowadays the Procession – which in the Middle Ages arrived at the Cathedral from the Church of Santa Maria Beltrade (which once stood where the homonymous named piazza is today, on Via Torino) – starts at the altar of the Madonna of the Tree, where the candles distributed to the church officials and worshippers are blessed. A large candle on the point of the Idea is also lit, the vestiges of an ancient custom: that of decorating the cross or sacred images with lit candles as a sign of celebration and honour. During the procession through the aisles of the Duomo, two deacons carry the Idea on their shoulders on a kind of litter and then leave it on display in the high altar during the Eucharist.
The origin of the name Idea given to this image of Mary has been widely discussed among scholars. According to some it derives from the pagan cult of the Magna Mater Idea, or Cybele, mother of the gods, in honour of whom processions intended to conjure the fertility of the earth took place. In this case, what we have here would be the Christianisation of an ancient pagan ritual through the controversial substitution of Cybele, known by the epithet Idea and considered the mother of the gods, with the true Idea, the most blessed Mary, Mother of God. Other scholars have found this explanation to be unconvincing and have instead proposed interpreting the term Idea according to its Greek etymology: simply another word for “image”.
Friday, 2nd February, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, at 5:30pm, Archbishop Mons. Mario Delpini will preside over the Blessing of the Candles ritual, the Procession with icon of the Madonna dell’Idea, and the Eucharist, with the participation of the Canons from the Metropolitan Chapter and worshippers from the diocese, on the occasion of the World Day for Consecrated Life.