One of the most ancient churches in Milan, Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio was built by St. Ambrose in 379–386, in an area where numerous martyrs of the Roman persecutions had been buried. The first name of the church was in fact Basilica Martyrum.
In the centuries after its construction, the edifice underwent several restorations and partial reconstructions, assuming the current appearance in the 12th Century, when it was rebuilt in the Romanesque style. The current church was begun around 1080. The nave dates to about 1128 and the rib vaults of the nave are from about 1140.
Initially, the basilica was outside the city of Milan, but over the following centuries, the city grew up around it. It became a center of religious life and a community of canons developed in the church. In 789, a monastery was established within the basilica grounds. The canons, however, retained their own community and identity instead of fading away. Two, separate, distinct religious communities shared the basilica. In the 11th century, the canons adopted orders and became Canons Regular. There were now two separate monastic orders following different rules living in the basilica. The canons were in the northern building, the cloister of the canons, while the monks were in the two southern buildings.
The two towers symbolize the division in the basilica. The 9th century Torre dei Monaci ('Tower of the Monks') tower was used by the monks to call the faithful to the monks' mass. The monks supported themselves, partly, from the offerings given after mass. However, the canons did not have a bell tower and were not allowed to ring bells until they finished their own tower in the 12th Century.
The monastery and church became a large landholder in northern Italy and into what is now the Swiss Canton of Ticino. On 4 August 1528 it was the so-called 'Peace of St. Ambrose', between the noble and popular factions of the city, was signed here. In 1492 the Benedictines commissioned Donato Bramante, structural architect of St. Peter's Basilica, to renovate the new rectory.
In August 1943 the Allied bombings heavily damaged the basilica, in particular the apse and surrounding area. As a result of this a new building, painted in pink, was constructed to house the Abbot's offices and the museum.
The basilica has a semi-circular apse, and smaller, semi-circular chapels at the end of the aisles; there is no transept. The interior has the same size as the external portico.
Under the dome cladding, in the last span of the nave, is the presbytery with, in its centre, the high altar. This was realized in 824–859 by Volvinius. It features a golden antependium with precious stones on both sides. The altar is surmounted by a contemporary ciborium, commissioned by archbishop of Milan Angilbert II.
The apse displays an early 13th-century mosaic. It was heavily restored after damage during the Second World War II. The oratory of San Vittore in Ciel d'Oro, built in the 4th by bishop Maternus, houses mosaics on the walls and in the ceiling (5th century). These include one of the earliest portrait of St Ambrose.
The church also houses the tomb of Emperor Louis II, who died in Lombardy in 875. The crypt, located under the high altar, was built in the 9th century to house the remains of three saints venerated here: Ambrose, Gervasus and Protasus. The remains of the saints were already in a crypt in the area, although their position went lost with the centuries. In the 9th century bishop Angilbert found them and had them put in a single porphyry sarcophagus. The current appearance of the crypt dates from the 18th century restoration commissioned by cardinal Benedetto Erba Odescalchi and to others from the following century, in which the bodies of the three saints were moved to a silver urn in a space under the ciborium.References:
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).