January 2017

Our trip to Milan started in Vienna on 10th January 2017. We spent the time on the train having pleasant and informative chats, taking a  nap and playing games (e.g. some of us took a chance to enjoy a snowball fight due to the heavy snow fall at the station in Salzburg). After coming to the metropolis of Lombardy we took lodgings, and then we set off to explore the neighbourhood.

First we stopped at the diocesan museum where we saw a couple of objects connected with St. Ambrose – the silver casket of San Nazaro (4th century) and a plaster tondo representing a great bishop of Milan (10th century). The highlight of the first day was the visit to the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio which houses a few unique art masterpieces, e.g. an ambon created from an Early Christian sarcophagus and a ciborium erected in honour of Otto the Great’s coronation. Nevertheless, we paid most of our attention to the so called Golden Altar dating back to the 1st half of 9th century. The material alone used for the altar says much about the fact that a spectator is coming across something really extraordinary. An analogy with the Ark of the Covenant immediately comes to one’s mind. Moreover, we had a unique chance to admire this treasure set with precious stones and decorated with enamel at close quarters which used to be the privilege of bishops, priests and kings only! If the end of the opening hours had not been drawing near, I guess we would have been able to stand or kneel before the altar with admiration for a few more hours.

After a common dinner we went to bed to be wide awake for the next day where our destination was Monza. Most people know this place thanks to its motor-racing circuit. However, among art historians Monza enjoys great popularity mainly due to the treasure house of its cathedral. It houses a unique set of Late Antique and Early Medieval antiquities. There are ampullae from the Holy Land, ivory diptychs (e.g. the diptych of the military commander Stilicho) and crosses and crowns set with gemstones and pearls there. And moreover a hen with chicks. However, there is no ordinary representative of the bird kingdom in question! The hen from Monza is made of gold and silver. It is a matter of a gift given to Theodelinda, queen of the Lombards, by the pope Gregory the Great. Theodolinda is a top star for Monza, and so the rulers of Monza – the Visconti family - had a chapel in the cathedral decorated with the scenes of the Lombard queen at the turn of 15th century . Just by the way, the famous Lombard iron crown with a nail from the True Cross is kept in this chapel.

On the way back to Milan we had a royal lunch on the train, thus making the engine driver look agreeably surprized too. All kinds of dishes were washed down with delicious wine which tasted excellent. And some of us started singing. In short, a celebration of food as it should be! In Milan we entered a grandiose cathedral and had also a look at the remains of the baptistery in its underground. That is the place where we discussed the practising of the ritual of baptism in Early Christianity. In the building of the former Austrian governorship, which serves as a museum nowadays, we admired objects made from ivory (goblets, diptychs). After that we made our way to the Basilica of San Lorenzo. Despite the fact that the church had been rebuilt several times, it has kept an impression of monumental dignity whose roots date back to 4th and 5th century. And again there was a common dinner waiting for us connected with a festive multiple toast.

A visit to Castelseprio was scheduled for the third day. Getting from the station to the small church with famous mural paintings took us relatively a short time although we had to make our way through the snow. It was no wonder as we could see the peaks of the Alps covered in snow on the horizon. It was a stunning view for all nature lovers, but it was not until we saw the decorations in the small church in Castelseprio that we were really moved. We talked about these scenes so many times, and now we were meeting them in person! Once again the train back to Milan became a temporary dining room where we could satisfy our hunger. Before leaving Milan we were given another welcome by the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, yet, this time we focused our main attention on the mosaic in the apse. This way we said good-bye to Milan and hurried to catch the train along with our suitcases. After overcoming minor complications (traffic jams in the streets, running about the station due to "time stress", the train leaving without us sitting on it, finding an alternate train) we succeeded in getting to Venice where we had a transfer time of about 1 minute. Fortunately, the planned "airborne troop operation" was successful, not only thanks to good coordination, but also due to the fact that the connecting train was delayed in some way. Then we could already have an undisturbed and peaceful sleep! On 14th January we came back to our homeland.

Jakub Kříž