Soldier Saint (Spire of the Milanese)

Santo Soldato (Guglia dei Milanesi)
This solider with cuirass and belt running diagonally across his chest, greaves and a helmet with an impressive plume, which identifies him as an NCO, is dedicated to the Milanese. His left hand rests on the hilt of a sword, his right hand is bent back and rests on his side. His head is tilted towards the right, and his whole body is resting on one hip. The statue portrays a general at rest; from his expression, he may be contemplating something or searching his memory for some distant recollection. Milan has seen many captains, none of whom were particularly saintly. One of the first was Squarcino Borri, a faithful supporter of the Visconti family, who fought in the battle of Desio against the Della Torre family. His sword helped the Viscontis to win and therefore take control of the city. It was 1277: a date to remember also for the Cathedral, which was started by the Viscontis. Then came the turbulent period in which the Sforzas and the Viscontis competed for control of the city. At that time the captains were hired soldiers who switched allegiances as required by their profession. Giovanni della Noce was one of these. Having left his domains in Calabria, he travelled up to Milan to defend the Viscontis from the sieges of the Sforzas. In the defence of Milan, he met one of the most important Milanese condottieri: Bartolomeo Colleoni. Colleoni faithfully served the Viscontis and was elected “defender of Milan”, but he did not succeed in stopping the Sforzas. He then served the Venetians, but always planned to return to Milan. He was a rare military genius, and was the first to rout the formidable Swiss armies at Bellinzona in 1422. A more famous condottiero was Carmagnola who helped Filippo Maria Visconti to regain power but then, having switched to the Venetians, they discovered he was double-dealing with the Milanese and he was beheaded. Stories of betrayals and contracts were part and parcel of the military profession. Then it was the turn of Francesco Sforza, who took the city and was the new ruler for sixteen years, before it returned to the Viscontis. Roberto Sanseverino, a Lombard who had acquired noble titles under the Aragonese in Calabria, was faithful to the Sforzas. He fought in the Holy Land and in Calabria, and acted in the interests of the Sforzas. He travelled up and down Italy, passing through Milan, just like we do today. Then there were other captains and other adventures, like Carlo Cattaneo, Gabrio Casati, Federico Confalonieri, when Milan was shaking off Austrian domination and was set on the path towards Unification, right through to the modern-day condottieri who in the twentieth century defended the city from its internal and external enemies. Construction of the Cathedral extended over a period lasting more than six centuries and witnessed the passage of dozens of captains and banners, and a huge amount of booty. This soldier seems to remember stories, fallen into oblivion, where legend fills the gaps in memory. Stories of courage, discipline, values: Milan witnessed the last cavalcades of the ancient horsemen, before the guns swept aside all ancient virtue within the heart.