An itinerary entirely dedicated to Manzoni and to his masterpiece: "I Promessi Sposi" (The Betrothed).
(by Simone Vaccari, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
Along the typical Milanese streets of the Porta Venezia district, we come to the church of San Carlo. We are now in the authentic central part of the Lazzaretto, which had this church as its centre. From here, it extended a vast area bounded by walls coinciding with the present streets of San Gregorio, Lazzaretto, Corso Vittorio Veneto, and Corso Buenos Aires.
In the novel’s events, Renzo heads to the Lazzaretto in search of his beloved, Lucia, as he was told she is hospitalised here.
After daring adventures, the young man finally manages to enter the structure, and a pitiful scene opens up before his eyes. Amidst dying people, dysentery and filth, he explores what seems to be hell. The camp, set up with huts and structured in small quartiers, is populated by thousands of plague victims crammed into a space that oozes moans, inhuman screams and petrified eyes.
Through dirty paths and alleys, Renzo enters an infernal setting characterised by pain and dying corpses. Renzo is shocked by that abomination but proceeds stubbornly to find Lucia.
Here he encounters a crucial figure in the novel: Father Christopher, a Capuchin monk who tries to save the two’s young love during the novella from the clutches and lusts of the evil lord Don Rodrigo.
It is in this place where the monk shows Renzo a dying Rodrigo. For a moment, the sight of his arch-enemy makes the young man reluctant and thirsty for revenge, but after a convincing and humane speech by the friar, Renzo is convinced to forgive him. The sight of the lord’s pitiful state softens Renzo’s heart, and shaken by the thoughts of his beloved, he pursues his destiny.
The monk finally indicates to the young man where Lucia might be, pointing him to the octagonal chapel where we now stand: San Carlo.
The chapel’s appearance was slightly different from today, where the outer walls were absent, and the roof was supported by columns, making the building look more like an altar.
It is near here that Renzo luckily finds Lucia inside a shack.
The young Lucia is a victim of the plague, but through prayers, hopes, and luck, she overcomes the disease and comes out unscathed.
At this point, the novella takes a calmer turn, but there is still a problem. Having previously taken vows of chastity, the girl cannot marry her lover, and Renzo is forced to return to Father Cristoforo. Thanks to the latter, the vows are annulled, and Renzo leaves Lazaretto, where he patiently waits for Lucia to recover completely.
Unfortunately, the end of the benevolent brother Christoforo is not so happy, and fate will have him die here due to the plague shortly after this episode.
Today, apart from the book’s narrative, we can imagine an unhealthy place riddled with disease, poverty and hardship, unfortunately, the ultimate destination for many.