At the start of September, I was lucky enough to be invited to Milan for the launch of a new, key product for a vendor I work with quite regularly.
It was an absolute fly-in/fly-out visit. I arrived on Monday morning and left Wednesday night, and I had very little time for sight seeing. Based on when the event was, when I was meeting with others, and jet-lag, I ended up having to focus on a single spot to visit.
After hearing about it from several friends and followers on Twitter, I decided to visit the Duomo Cathedral.
The cathedral was about 1.5-2km from the hotel I was staying at, a leisurely walk, and it gave me the opportunity to see a chunk of the city along the way. I was a typical photo-mad tourist, snapping photos of some of the most mundane things, simply because they were so intensely different to similarly mundane things in Australia. Take post boxes, for instance:
Along the way to Duomo, I walked past another church, and out the front of the church was a woman begging. I didn’t understand her words of course, but I understood her intent. Mid 60s or later, draped in all in black, hunched over and defeated, she nevertheless begged every passer-by. It felt so wrong to me that she was forced to beg in front of a church, so I handed her €20, and saw her burst into tears of gratitude. She thanked me a few more times, I awkwardly told her she was welcome and went on my way to Duomo.
From a distance, even for an atheist, Duomo is at least a spectacular building. The marble work is of course intricate and paints hundreds, possibly thousands of different stories across its exterior.
Arriving at the doors of the Duomo I was stopped by soldiers – they were rigorously enforcing new entry rules, and me holding a camera with no bag to put it in was a serious no-no. No photography allowed inside, apparently. (Later, when I returned with others, our party was denied access because the lady in our group had bare shoulders.)
The military, defending the sanctity of a building dedicated to a supposedly omnipotent, omniscient being – who would by all accounts see billions of women naked every day in every scenario, but a woman with bare shoulders couldn’t enter the cathedral. Nor could a bear holding a camera.
So consequently I spent a lot of time photographing the exterior of Duomo.
What I found was abhorrent; repellant. It was a skin of evil. Supposedly built to celebrate the power and glory of an almighty being, it was covered in suffering. Oh yes, sure, there were plenty of archangels in happy poses, Mary surrounded by angels, plus other figures of religious authority staring out.
But they were almost invariably supported by people suffering. Staggering under the weight of the marble columns they were supporting to allow the aforementioned figures to be happy or adulated.
All the time walking around Duomo and taking photos, I kept on thinking of the begging woman I’d met along the way, and the military guards barring so many people from entering.
Duomo is a beautiful building, that’s for sure – but it also serves as a pointed reminder that beauty can disguise evil. The exterior of Duomo is meant to be a celebration of a deity, but it’s equally a celebration of suffering and pain.
That’s a terribly sad thing.