Noah’s Ark

I discovered too late that my wife could also spot “cupule-less” churches! Such is the case of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore Church located in via Corso Magenta, 15, again, quite close to the famous Duomo and its crowds in Milan, of course.

From the outside the Church is rather anonymous and I could have easily walked past it. In fact it was originally a female Benedictine Convent and is mostly ignored by tourists. Of course my wife zeroed in on it and quickly went up the entrance steps. Luckily she did not see me rolling my eyes! As I was about to adopt my usual waiting stance at the outside steps (yes, where the beggars are normally begging!) I caught a glimpse of its interior and did not hesitate to follow her! I was truly rewarded.

The church of San Maurizio, Milan.

The church of San Maurizio, Milan.

The church is literally amazing in its inner beauty as, with the exception of its roof, it is completely covered in frescoes. If we forget the roof, I dare to compare the ambiance to the world famous Sistine Chapel and I mean it! The Church, built in the beginning of the XVI century, has another unique feature: it is divided into three separated parts -a crypt, an ample cloistral area and a front part open to the public. The nuns could only follow the mass offered to the public in the front of the church from the confines of the cloister through discreet windows!

To me, a retiree, naturalist and bush snob, the church offered a much more interesting feature that I almost missed! This is the Chapel of Noah’s Ark with its frescoes by Aurelio Luini. The Chapel is the last of ten chapels in the Church so I was a bit “Chapel-bored” by the time I got to it but all was forgotten!

There are three paintings on the theme of Noah’s Ark: before, during and after the deluge. My attention was drawn to the second as the others -secondary- show the vivid drama the Ark must have gone through in rather crude terms. The main painting shows the usual scene of the animal pairs queuing in amazing interspecific harmony to get on public transport (hello nowadays commuters…) while Noah is linked to God, surely getting further instructions.

Noah's Ark by Aurelio Luini.

Noah’s Ark by Aurelio Luini.

Spending a few minutes looking at the fresco, several interesting details slowly appear. There are pairs of all animals, with the exception of a trio of dogs and I enjoyed seeing African hoopoes perched on the roof as well as both porcupines and hedgehogs. Luckily they were saved!

However, the most interesting feature is the pair of white unicorns joining the queue, just in front of the elephants. Why are they there if they did not exist? We will probably never know the reasons. But what if they existed and became extinct after checking in? There is a rumour that they got chewed up en route by the lions.

The sight brought me to wander about its possible (non-existing) scientific name! Regarding its Genus I have no hesitation in placing them with the Equus as they are very horse-like and I do not like to complicate scientific nomenclature as I am not after glory these days. The specific denomination was a challenge. Names such rectocornis, monocornatus, virgo or vestalatractatus and others were left out as they could be misinterpreted or too risqué. The most appropriate seemed to be the rather boring monocornis, following the example of the Black Rhino that having two horns is a bicornis!

The final product would look like:

Kingdom:   Animalia

Phylum:     Chordata

Class:         Mammalia

Order:        Perissodactyla

Family:      Equidae Gray, 1821

Genus:      Equus Linnaeus, 1758

Species:   monocornis Bushsnob, 2015[1]

Whatever happened to the unicorns, the visit was both enjoyable as well as thought provoking. What more can you expect from just “another Church”?


[1] Pliny the Elder around AD 60 in Rome is believed to be the first Naturalist colleague to mention it. He called it a monocerotem. Unfortunately he got it wrong…

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