The archaeology The ancient christian religious centre The most representative presence of the Milanese Christianity established perhaps in the third century, in the place where the present Duomo is situated. The Duomo took roots in 1386 in a land consecrated to the Christian cult for more than one millennium. This continuity shows the vocation of the Milanese for the square, it suggests the star-like town planning that the city will take from the middle Age, and it devotes the Duomo and the square as places of memory. The subsurface keeps the relics of the ancient buildings, the echo of generations of believers’ prayers and the presence of many holy pastors of the diocese. Basilica Vetus and Santo Stefano alle fonti’s Baptistery. The basilica, quoted by Sant’Ambrogio in his writing to his sister Marcellina, could be originally a “domus ecclesiae”, with a big room located in the apsidal area of the Duomo, named “basilica iemalis” by Ambrogio, unlike the basilica at Santa Tecla, named “summer basilica”. The Bishop lived there and the believers and the catechumens gathered there respectively for the celebration of the fraternal agape and for the preparation to the baptism. After the Constantine’s and Licinio’s rescript, promulgated in Milan in 313, the basilican complex was changed. The basin of the Santo Stefano baptistery, which was found at the end of the nineteenth century under the northern sacristy of the Duomo, dates back to that time. The foundation and the masonry of the octagonal basin are very similar to the ones of the more ancient apse of Santa Tecla. Following this idea, the appointed bishop Sant’Ambrogio was baptized in this basin November 30, 374. It is plausible that, from the fifth century, it became the women’s baptistery. Santa Tecla’s basilica. Ambrogio named it the “basilica nova quae major est” and it was the truly first cathedral built as such. It was big (67,60x45,30 meters), with a wide visible apse under the upper parvis and five naves extended under the present square. It dated back to the third-fourth decade of the fourth century. In the course of the centuries, it experienced fires and restorations, until its gradual demolition during the fifteenth century (completed in 1461) in order to make room for the new yard of the Duomo, whose construction, at that time, had arrived to the first five pillars’ spans, beyond the transept. San Giovanni alle fonti’s baptistery. It was the first Christian baptistery with a basin and with an octagonal plan. The octagon recalled the seven days of the creation and the eighth of the eternity, but also the eight evangelical Beatitudes. Sant’Ambrogio, who presumably commissioned it in 378, was probably given inspiration for the octagonal plan by the imperial mausoleum of Massimiano. This way, the catechumens, entering the baptistery, had the sensation of entering the grave in order to put to death the old man and - as San Paolo said – to rise again from the holy water. The baptistery had eight niches, alternatively rectangular and semicircular, which overlooked at the sides of the big central basin, to which it was possible to enter through three steps. Between the niches, in front of the buttresses, which supported a big dome with a mosaic decoration, stood porphyry pillars supported by a marble entablature. The late excavations (1961-1964) uncovered its route, but little had remained of the raising masonry. In order to realize the original appearance of the whole construction, it is advisable to go to San Lorenzo’s basilica and to admire the inside and outside of Sant’Aquilino’s chapel, which was built at the end of the fourth century. It has preserved its roman identity entirely and its measures slightly differ from the ones of the baptistery. In the San Giovanni’s basin, Sant’Agostino was baptized by Ambrogio during the Easter eve in 387. Just after the beginning of the Duomo’s yard, the Fabbrica sold by auction pillars and marbles of the baptistery, definitely pulled down in 1394. Santa Maria Maggiore’s basilica. It was also known as the winter basilica, because it was smaller than Santa Tecla and it had thick walls and a vaulting covering. It was the second part of a single cathedral. In fact, Milan had a “dual” cathedral for a millennium, alternating the liturgical celebrations between the two basilicas: in Santa Maria Maggiore from the Advent to the Easter triduum, in Santa Tecla the following period. Santa Maria Maggiore was consecrated in 836 by the archbishop Angilberto II and it was considered the remaking of the Vetus, from which it inherited the title of Santa Maria Maggiore. It occupied more or less the area later taken by the main nave of the Duomo and, with the apse located near San Carlo’s scurolo, it was about seventy meters long. It was completely destroyed, rebuilt and enlarged twice, but, with the proceeding of the Duomo’s yard, it was gradually demolished. Its façade has been the temporary façade of the Duomo for two centuries. It was reused, disassembled and reassembled at least once for the progress of the naves and, eventually, it was pulled down at the end of the seventeenth century.
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