Reopening to the worshippers and visitors from 11 November 2023
oday the Veneranda Fabbrica celebrates a new milestone: the completion of the restoration of the Scurolo di San Carlo in the Milan Duomo.
An important work, which lasted two years and has finally come to an end after the closure to the public in 2020 of this space that is so important for the Cathedral, to restore in all its splendour to the worshippers, pilgrims and visitors the underground chapel where the body of the co-patron saint of the Archdiocese of Milan rests.
The conclusion of the restoration will be honoured by the visit of the Archbishop of Milan Monsignor Mario Delpini, at the end of the Pontifical on the liturgical Solemnity of Saint Charles, scheduled for 3 November at 5.30pm.
The Scurolo of Saint Carlo: a treasure of faith and art
THE SCUROLO OF SAINT CARLO: A TREASURE OF FAITH AND ART
The ‘Scurolo’ (so called from the Milanese dialect term scuroeu, i.e. a dimly lit or underground room) is the place that houses the remains of Saint Charles Borromeo in Milan Cathedral.
Designed in 1606 by Francesco Maria Richini, commissioned by Cardinal Federico Borromeo, the Scurolo is located under the Cathedral’s presbytery, next to the Crypt (Cappella iemale). It appears to have been sufficiently completed and decorated in time for the canonisation of the saint (1 November 1610), thus constituting the homage of the Milanese and their Archbishops to Saint Charles.
The small room has an octagonal floor plan, with alternately unequal sides: the Scurolo is preceded by a classical pseudo-pronao that divides it from the Cappella iemale. The walls are decorated in the lower part with marble mirrors and in the upper part with panels decorated with 19th-century fabrics reworked in the 20th century with precious embroidery in silk, gold and silver threads, with Eucharistic symbols and the Borromeo family motto Humilitas.
The deliberation of the embossed silver foil decoration, which took over fifty years to complete, dates back to 1619. The donors were the Veneranda Fabbrica, which had allocated the monthly sum of six hundred imperial lire, Milanese goldsmiths, Count Borromeo, Cardinal Litta (Archbishop of Milan from 1652 to 1679) and the many citizens who joined in supporting the initiative.
The heart of the Scurolo is the crystal and silver urn that holds the body of St Charles: designed by Cerano, the work was donated by Philip IV of Spain. The body of the saint is dressed in pontifical vestments: the face is covered by a silver mask, commissioned by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini (Pope Paul VI) during his episcopal ministry as Archbishop of Milan (1954 – 1963).
Desired by the Veneranda Fabbrica and the Metropolitan Chapter of Milan and brought to completion also thanks to the support of the Ministry of Infrastructures and Transport and the Lombardy Region, the restoration work was carried out by the Fabbrica workers with the help of restoration professionals such as Luca Quartana for the wooden part, Ilaria Mensi for the fabrics, Anna Rizzi and Franco Blumer for all the silver ornaments, from the reliefs on the vault to the Virtues on the lower part, for the silver frames of the tapestries and the altar frontal.
In particular, the patinas on the metal decorations, the surface deposits, the oxidation of the silver and gold threads of the tapestries, which were torn and abraded in many places, and the moth-eaten and heavily varnished wooden parts made such restoration urgent.
The work has thus made it possible to restore new splendour – this is precisely the expression we should use – to all the decorative surfaces of the Scurolo, hidden by centuries of dust and dirt, and to have recreated an artistic and authentically spiritual environment, quite different from how it was before the work began: the silverware was so oxidised that it almost looked like ebony; the tapestries were damaged and unsafe.
The Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo also provided for the renovation of the installations and lighting of the chapel, designed by Pietro Palladino.
“For a long time, the desire had been burning within us to get to work on the restoration of one of the most hidden and precious spaces in Milan Cathedral: the Scurolo di San Carlo. An initial attempt had been blocked by the pandemic, which had brought not only our lives, but also many projects under discussion at the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo, into a state of ‘suspension’. Having overcome the drama of those days and resumed the fervour of work on the site, the Fabbrica Management wisely opened the works to restore full splendour as soon as possible to a space that visibly needed cleaning and restoration” – comments Monsignor Gianantonio Borgonovo, Archpriest of the Milan Duomo.