San Michele, one of Monza’s most venerated churches, was demolished in 1921 when Piazza Carducci was laid out. In 1128, this small single-aisled church of possible Lombard origin hosted the coronation of Conrad III of Swabia.
Around 1320 a painter from Rimini decorated it with a fresco cycle dedicated to the Virgin. Two scenes survived the demolition of the building: the first, a Dormition of the Virgin, is now in Santa Maria degli Angeli, the second, a large fragment known as the Mass of St. Michael, is on display in the museum. The work attests to the vitality of the painting workshops in Monza during the early 14th century and the revival under the Visconti of the cult of Theodolinda. Traditionally the queen is identified as the woman wearing a sumptuous cloak and crown standing next to the Virgin in the host of saints headed by Archangel Michael shown taking part in a mass officiated by two deacons. Despite its simple scheme, the meaning of the painting is shrouded in obscurity. In the past it was thought to have illustrated the appearance of the heavenly court at the consecration of the cave Saint Michael on Mount Gargano, the Lombards’ most venerated shrine (the Lombard dominions extended right down to southern Italy). A passage in the Golden Legend led to its later interpretation as a portrayal of the Mass of All Saints or a mass for the departed in the presence of the Lombard sovereigns. Another passage in this book inspired a more recent theory suggesting that the painting shows the Virgin’s last mass before her death, in the presence of the Elect.