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Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio

Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio

Sant’Ambrogio Square, 15 Milan – ITALY



The Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, together with the Duomo, is the cradle of history and spirituality in Milan and a treasure trove of sacred art. The basilica’s entrance, a magnificent atrium, consisting of four columns with capitals carved in relief, is a suitable introduction to the venerated atmosphere typical of ecclesiastical interiors. Upon entering visitors encounter a gabled facade opened by two superimposed loggias that are linked with the inside of the porch and framed at the top by two bell towers, the one on the left is the Torre dei Canonici (Canons’ Tower , twelfth century) and the right one is the Torre dei Monaci (Monks’ Tower, ninth century). The Basilica, dedicated to the bishop of Milan, is a magnificent example of Romanesque architecture in Lombardy. The ancient building, of which only the original plan is known, has been extensively modified since the ninth century. The church has three naves, two lateral and one central; the ceiling consists of ribbed vaults and pillars that create momentum and harmony. Not much of the original basilica Martyrum remains in the basilica of Sant'Ambrogio but valuable evidence of the time can still be found. Amongst these is the magnificent Sarcophagus of Stililcone, some of the decoration of the interior walls, such as some polychrome marble inlays and a marble balustrade, two precious carved wood panels on the entrance door. Fulcrum of the basilica is the ciborium, an elegant canopy decorated with Byzantine Lombard stucco supported by four Roman columns that enclose and preserve the masterpiece of Carolingian art (the only existing example preserved in precious metals): the Golden Altar.
The Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio is one of the most ancient churches in Milan. It was built by Saint Ambrose in 379–386, in a vast area (Hortus Philipphi) where numerous martyrs of the Roman persecutions had been buried. The first name of the church was in fact Basilica Martyrum, dedicated to the martyrs Gervasio and Protasio. When St. Ambrose arrived in Milan, the local churches were in conflict with each other over the dispute between Arianism and the Nicene Creed as well as numerous local issues. He was firmly in support of the Nicene side of the conflict, and wanted to make northern Italy into a pro-Rome stronghold. He did this through both preaching and construction. He built three churches surrounding the city; Basilica Apostolorum (now San Nazaro in Brolo), Basilica Virginum (now San Simpliciano), and Basilica Martyrum (which was later renamed in his honor). Initially, the basilica was outside the city of Milan, but over the following centuries, the city grew up around it. In 789, a Benedictine abbey was established within the basilica grounds. The basilica took its definitive appearance at the end of the year 1000, when it was rebuilt according to the canons of Romanesque architecture. Of the original early Christian basilica, it has kept the three-aisled structure, all with apses, and a porch with arches supported by the semicolumns and pilasters preceding the entrance. In 1492 the Benedictines commissioned Donato Bramante to renovate the new rectory In August 1943 the Allied Bombings heavily damaged the basilica, in particular the cupola. In the following years the restoration works that brought the basilica back to its ancient splendor began in the 1950s.
Thanks above all to the episcopate of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, archbishop of Milan from 1979 to 2002, the Catholic Church of Milan is engaged in dialogue with other religions in order to deepen the knowledge of different religious traditions, to identify projects and paths the realization of peaceful coexistence, social integration, collaboration for human rights and respect for diversity. Two-person meetings between Jews and Christians, but also with Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu faithful, have been organized for many years not only in the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio. Cardinal Martini, in dialogue, involved not only the faithful of other religions, but also non-believers. In 1987 he started what he himself called the "Chair of unbelievers", a series of meetings aimed not only to listen to non-believers or to dialogue with them, but to "put them in the chair" to be questioned by them and the dynamics generated by comparison.
It is possible to analyze the influence of the Roman tradition against the church of Milan, focusing on the history of the Ambrosian liturgy. The Ambrosian liturgy was founded with the bishop Ambrogio between the fourth and fifth centuries, was enriched in the seventh century and perfected in the Carolingian period between the ninth and tenth centuries. At the end of the 6th century, the Ambrosian rite, given the great importance and weight of the Milanese church, managed to survive the suppression of minor Western rites, while its definitive legitimacy will come after the Council of Trent, thanks to the work of the then Pope reigning, the Milanese Pius IV and that of the bishop of Milan, Carlo Borromeo. The survival of the Ambrosian liturgy which, unique among ancient rites, has been preserved to this day, testifies to its vitality that has been able to adapt to the genius of the faithful who celebrate it and its independence from the Roman rite that predominates in the Catholic Church.
Direct visit with local guides

Virtual visit using online resources and in particular the virtual tour

Classroom activity (pre- and post-visit)
Artistic itinerary: detailed information on the works of art of the basilica.
Liturgical path: detailed information on the main sites of the site (presbytery, altar, pulpit, crypt and bell towers, cloisters).
Fact sheets on two key figures of the Milanese church: Sant'Ambrogio and Cardinal Carlo Maria Maritini.
Acquisition of acquired knowledge and skills.



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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.