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Modena's Duomo and the breath of God

by Ugo Cornia last modified 2008-06-20 15:10

A foot through the spokes, lions, rats and blasphemy. Memories blur and blend in Modena's most famous monument

Il Duomo di ModenaModena's Duomo is so much part of its surroundings that I couldn't tell you whether it's beautiful or not. To find out what it's like I have to show it to someone who's not from Modena, but each time I do that I always feel a bit of an idiot. It's like going out with someone just because your friends think she's pretty. No, the Duomo's so much part of its surroundings that I don't even see it anymore. Though I've often thought that if it ever does disappear I'd get such a lump in my throat that I don't think I'd be able to cry.
I've got lots of hazy memories that I can't really place of my father sitting me up on one the lions in front of the doors, as Modenese fathers do, and my mother, three yards away, laughing and waving. But my first real memory of the Duomo goes back to when I was three and in my mind it's linked to my first memory of pain. My father had brought me to the square by bike instead of our usual walk. On the way home he put me into the seat on the back, and because I liked dangling my legs instead of sitting them on the foot rests, as we turned into Via Università my foot got caught in the spokes making me squeal and shout in pain which in turn got my father shouting in anger and all in all worsening the situation, as was his wont, and as soon as we got to Via Della Cella he perched me on a low wall, where I sat crying, and told me that my mother would come and collect me as he had stuff of his own to do.

Piazza GrandeAnd there goes my first real memory of the Duomo and Piazza Grande, a memory which, if I hadn't poked my foot into the back wheel of the bicycle, I wouldn't have, since day-to-day happenings are rarely remembered and anyway, my recollections of the Duomo itself are still unclear. But I also remember walking around the Duomo with my mother one day, while we were out doing shopping in the centre, I must have been about ten or eleven, when at some stage she said that the lions around one of the doors, I'm not sure which, were much nicer than the ones around the other; all this left me perplexed to say the least as I still believed every word my mother said, yet I liked the lions at the other door much better. Indeed I still remember how perplexed I was, and I'm only realising now that up until a certain stage in my life (until I was ten, maybe twelve) there only were the lions and the rest of the Duomo was invisible, then the Duomo started to materialise in my head and the lions slowly faded.
I remember I was still in secondary school and there was nothing, and I mean nothing, to do during the winter afternoons and now and again I used to go to the Duomo with two friends of mine, and we'd look all around, and one afternoon Gianni Pecchini, one of the two friends, was standing in front of the crib enthralled, when he said "It's God awful gorgeous", and even if his words were entirely in good faith, for the laugh we said "you can't talk like that in a church", so he, still in good faith, replied "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, you're right", and at that stage we got such a fit of laughing that the three of us had to run right out of the Duomo.
I've been in and out of it many times since, I've strolled around it, on my own or in company, and at night I've stumbled out of the these side streets to see its white marble appear before my eyes. It's always a sight worth seeing.

E questo è il primo ricordo preciso che ho legato al Duomo e a Piazza GrandeI've never wanted to know anything about the Duomo, just looking at it, going in every so often, was enough. Any time I went in, whenever I could, that is if Mass wasn't on, I always went right around, taking everything in, even quicky, just to get a feel of it. I could learn lots of things but I only want to look. I only found out this year that the scenes on the facade, which as it happens I'm very fond of, were taken from Genesis.
Six or seven years ago, towards the end of the summer, I was out walking with a friend and we ended up sitting on the steps of the door that looks onto Piazza Grande. It was very late. Then, despite the fact there was always someone crossing the square, we heard a strange rustling. There on the left was a rat tucking into his dinner, a cockroach perhaps. I've always liked to look at rats at night and I've always liked where they hang out. Suddenly they become full of life and energy, and you can imagine a complicated system of underground passages and tunnels, as ancient as Rome. And indeed chances are the apses hide some poor pigeon thrown into the throes of death.
Nonetheless, even though it isn't a particularly big building, even though I don't believe in God, I've always felt His breath in here.

Modena's Duomo - - the history of the Duomo.
Modena - - useful information
Modena and province - - history, useful information, eating out, and much more . . .

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