Monday, December 27, 2010

Santa Maria Podone: a mysterious beauty

I love languages. Today, we have a church of mysterious beauty (mysterious because I haven’t seen the inside, yet, it has been closed for restoration since 1999, with—apparently—no end in sight) with what seems an equally mysterious name: Santa Maria Podone.

“Santa Maria” is clear, but “Podone”?...More......

Usually for my names and dates I refer to “Milano” by the Italian version of the Automobile Club of America, the TCI-Touring Club of Italy. Being too lazy busy to get up and find my copy, I hunted on the net, and found some good stuff on the official site of the diocese of Milan (

The church was founded before the year 871, the first time it appears in documents, by a fellow named “Vuerolfo.” If it sounds like an ancient Germanic name, you’re right, first the Lombards from the other side of the Alps and then—by this time—the Carolingians (heard of Charlemagne, right?) had been in control of large swathes of Italy, including Lombardy (get it?), for centuries and centuries. So, this guy Vuerolfo founds a church on a piece of his property once covered by houses, and, as often happened/happens, the church was named after its founder (huh?...keep on reading!).

Fast forward to the mid-15th century, and the ancient, noble and rich family (gee, life must have been hard for them) the Borromeo had a house in front of the church, so in 1440 Vitaliano Borromeo tore down the houses between his mansion and the church, created the piazza between the two (and a strong psychological connection, as well as a pretty darn good view) and built a family chapel onto the church. Within two years, the Borromeo had obtained a kind of official patronage over the church, making changes in it, building chapels, adding a porch, and generally maintaining the church to the glory of God (and the Borromeo).

Another Borromeo, Carlo, Archbishop of Milan from 1565-1584 (eventually made a saint for his fundamental role in the reform of the Catholic church after the Protestant Reformation, it's probably to this time that the sculpture of Dionigi Bussola dates), had the bell tower moved to the place where it is, today, while his cousin, Federico, Archbishop of Milan from 1595-1631 (also a cardinal, and more famous for founding the “Pinacoteca Ambrosiana” and its library), redid the church, and made it a “home base” for charitable activities (yeah, Federico!). The family’s religious motto was “humility” (“humilitas” in Latin—see my needlepoint blog for a diagram of its original form in Gothic-style letters:

Centuries of family interventions later, in the late 18th and early 19th century the church was deprived of independence by the government—twice—, and it was handed over to the larger nearby church Sant’Alessandro, as part of complex official attempts to eliminate corruption and fill empty civic coffers. In 1999, S. Maria Podone then passed under the direct control of the diocese of Milan, and restoration began… I’m still waiting to see the inside of the church…one day…sigh….

Oh, and the name “pedone?”

“Pes” is “foot” in Latin. “ “Pedis” is “of the foot, and “-one” in Italian indicates “big” in a negative way.

Remember Vuerolfo? His knickname was “Pedone”…I’ll bet that, in that period of mixing up Latin and local languages in development, "pedone" meant “Big clumsy feet.” And by the end of the 18th century, “Pedone” had been changed into “Podone,” so there you have it.

I snapped these photos on the 12th of December around 4 P.M.

1 comment:

Becky said...

Great history lesson! I like your sleuthing. And closed since 1999! That is too long. Frustrating.

Merry Christmas!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...