When I was in the US in April I attended a lecture given by a young woman who had researched the building of the Milan Cathedral (Duomo). Her work was in the process of becoming a doctoral study that has the working title “the lived in hovels, and built Cathedrals”. What had begun as a small under-graduate project had become something much much more.
The turning point in her studies was when she discovered that from the moment of the first donation towards the building in the fourteenth century, a detailed record of every contribution had been kept. The result is many volumes of dates, names and precise accounts of every donation.
The people of the city of Milan in the 1300s lived in poverty. But they wanted to give God the best. They wanted to build a cathedral not for themselves, but to give glory to God.
As a result of their poverty, and as testimony to their generosity, the account book is filled with entries that might read: 1 July 1389, Fred Smith, one egg.
So the people were not just giving coins, but the Fred who had one hen, would fast one day each week and bring that egg to the Cathedral site for the market. Fred’s gift would be registered, and the egg would be sold.
The remarkable story of this Cathedral is that over 85% of the total cost of the building was gifted by people who lived in great poverty. These people would very regularly give generously from their need.
They lived in hovels, and built Cathedrals.
Today I had the opportunity to visit this wonderful testimony of Faith. The Duomo is a remarkable building. Every detail is precise and beautiful. The completed monument raises the mind and heart to God.
Most of all this magnificent Church is testimony to the healthy life perspective of the people who built it. They knew that when God is honoured before all else, the first fruit is a deep human joy that transcends even the trials of poverty and suffering.
As they gave their egg, the cabbage or coin, they knew that they would not see the fruits of their gift since Cathedrals took generations to build. But they did not give to receive earthly reward. They knew that anything they gave to God, would bear fruit one hundred fold for eternity.
And today as I spent time in this beautiful building, I was savouring the fruit of their generosity. And today, six hundred years later, I was deeply grateful to them.