The Cathedral or Duomo of Siena is a masterpiece of the Middle Ages, completed in the 13th Century.
So, why do I say “unfinished cathedral”? Siena served as a major stopping point on the pilgrimage route to Rome. As such, it became a very important and very rich city. At the end of the 13th century, Florence, the great rival of Siena, began construction of their new cathedral, bigger than that of Siena. The Sienese did not want to be outdone!
So, a great expansion project was planned. The current cathedral would serve as the transept (the cross-bar) of a new, larger cathedral. Just think of the long part of the church/cross turned into the short side of the church/cross and you’ll get the idea. Construction began in 1339, and parts of the new nave (main body of the church) got underway.
This first picture is taken from within what would have been the nave of the church, looking toward the altar; the second, from inside the church, looking away from the altar. It is the inside of what would have been the grand facade.
But I’m standing outside, so what happened? The plague… A great plague in 1348 swept through Siena, killing, according to Don Enrico, who is a man you want to trust, 30,000 Sienese. The money and the workers were gone. The expansion of the cathedral could not continue.
Still, the experience of being within those columns allows one to understand the great ambition of a people, ambition to turn their faith and their love of God–and their competition with Florence–into stone. Genuine faith is incarnate and expresses itself in concrete ways. That is a true Christian “instinct”, even when it is mixed up with the instincts of rivalry and competition. In the words of Mother Teresa, it inspires me to “do something beautiful for God”. Even foolish, maybe, but beautiful and for God.