Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio

Milan, Italy

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.

Interior

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.

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Details

Founded: c. 1080 AD
Category: Religious sites in Italy

Rating

4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Mykola Novik (20 months ago)
Large old basilica built in 4th century in very good condition. Overall composition as well as individual architectural details make a nice impression. Definitely worth a visit.
alistair cruickshank (20 months ago)
Beautiful, extremely old, fourth century basilica. Peaceful and a must visit place when in Milan. Church of the cities patron saint.
Go Ju (21 months ago)
I don’t usually feel anything special about churches but this has this magical element. Built in 4th century, enlarged throughout the years has its very unique character.
Michael Anderson (21 months ago)
A must see in Milan. The architecture is gorgeous and the frescoes are well preserved. It's also blissfully free of tourists which is a definite change from the area around the Duomo which is absolutely teeming with people
Bilal Ibrahim (2 years ago)
Very nice place. The history and architecture is well preserved so props to the Italian officials for that. It's a nice spot to take some photos, and understand some more about Italian History. I would like to go and see it again if I am every in the area some time in the future, and would recommend families, couples and singles to visit and take some good photos!
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