Rito della Nivola

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Cathedral of Milan: Carlo Borromeo celebrating the Holy Nail, painting by Gian Battista della Rovere (Fiammenghino)

The Rite of the Nivola (in Italian Rito della Nivola) is a Catholic liturgical rite (part of the Ambrosian Rite)[1] as well as a historical reenactment that is celebrated yearly in the Duomo (Cathedral) of Milan, Italy; the tradition dates back to the 16th century and was initiated by Carlo Borromeo.[2] It is a celebration of the "Santo Chiodo" (Holy Nail), purportedly a nail from the True Cross, which is regarded as the most important relic owned by the Archdiocese of Milan.[3] The relic is also known as the "Santo Morso" (Holy Bridle), as it is in fact shaped in a way that may resemble a part of a bridle.[3] It is preserved in the apse of the Cathedral, in a case inside a tabernacle, about 45 m above the ground.

By chance, the rite is not named after the relic; rather, it owes its name to the Nivola (/'ni-ula/, Lombard for "cloud"), a sort of lift shaped like a cloud, that is used during the rite by the Archbishop to reach the tabernacle of the Holy Nail.[4] This Nivola itself dates back at least to the 16th century, and its design or realization are sometimes credited to Leonardo da Vinci.[5] It is composed of a large basket, 3 m long and about as wide, weighing about 800 kg, and lifted by hoists. The decorations of the lift, comprising drapes and paintings of angels and cherubs, were added over time; the paintings, in particular, were reportedly created in 1612 by the Milanese painter Paolo Camillo Landriani.[6][7] In origin, the Nivola was operated by two dozens of men from the roof of the Duomo; nowadays, it has been mechanized.

The Rite of the Nivola is traditionally celebrated once a year. The tradition was established by Carlo Borromeo, who chose to celebrate the rite on May 3 (feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross), a date that was kept until the mid 20th century;[1] it was later changed to September 14 after Pope John XXIII abolished the May 3 holiday.[7][8][9]

The rite is open to the public but a reservation is needed, to be acquired from the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo offices.[4] There are two days a year when the Nivola can be seen in action; when the Holy Nail is retrieved from its case, on September 14, and when it is put back, about two weeks later.[4]

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