Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio / Churches

The oldest church in Milan, and a unique example of Lombard Romanesque architecture

Deemed the oldest church in Milan (in all likelihood, erected between 379 and 386), the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio was built by Saint Ambrose himself, after his arrival in Milan. This is, in fact, one of the four churches the saint had built in the 4th century in the ancient Mediolanum area, and its original name was Basilica Martyrum, in the honor of the Christians martyred before the legalization of this religion in the Roman Empire, and buried on the site of the present edifice. The context in which Saint Ambrose erected the four churches was highly decisive for the future trajectory of Christianity, and given the merits of the saint in solving the respective issues, the ancient Basilica Martyrum was later dedicated to him (parts of the mortal remains of the saint are contained in the basilica’s crypt).

The basilica remains one of the most exemplary embodiments of the Lombard Romanesque style in Italy, though most of its outline was delineated in the 12th century. The Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio is not necessarily one of the major tourist sights of Milan, given, despite its architectural virtues (the unity of the architectural composition, and the uniqueness of the style in the context of the overall architectural landscape of Lombardy), it features no blatant decorations to catch the eye. Yet, for tourists interested in the development of Christianity and for the way the church has influenced the growth of Milan itself, it is well worth a visit.

A less common architectural feature of the basilica (in fact, of the entire complex, which also contains a monastery) is it is flanked by two towers, reminding of the status conflicts between the priests of the church and the community of monks established at the monastery: the Monks’ Tower dates back to the 9th century, whereas the Canons’ Tower was built no sooner than the 12th century. In fact, plenty of the church’s sections were built in the 12th century, such as the nave and its vaults. One of the most notable 15th century additions refers to the so-called Portico dell Canonica, a work by Bramante, outstanding by the row of elegant columns carved with incredible finesse such as to seem like tree trunks. Tourists who look for the most original elements of the church should definitely pay attention to the oratory of San Vittore in Ciel d'Oro, highlighted by mosaics created in 470.

Name:
Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio (Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio)
Address:
15, Piazza di Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, 20123, Milan, Italy
Telephone:
0039 02 86450895
Email:
santambrogio@chiesadimilano.it
Website:
www.basilicasantambrogio.it
Opening hours:
Monday to Saturday: 10am to 12am and 2:30pm to 6pm; Sundays: 3pm to 5pm

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