Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio is a beautiful church in Milan, located in Piazza Sant’Ambrogio. One of the oldest churches in the city, it is traditionally considered the second most important church in Milan, after the Duomo.
A first church was built on this place between 379 and 386, at the behest of the bishop of Milan, Ambrogio, in an area where Christians martyrs of the Roman persecutions were buried. For this, it was dedicated to the martyrs and called Basilica Martyrum.
Ambrogio wanted to place here all the relics of the holy martyrs Vittore, Nabore, Felice, Vitale, Valeria, Gervasio and Protasio. In 397, he was also buried here, and the church was later renamed in his honor.
In the 9th century, the bishop Angilbert II added a large apse to the church, preceded by a room with a barrel vault, under which the liturgical functions took place. In the same period, the apse was decorated with a large mosaic, the Redeemer enthroned between the martyrs Protasio and Gervasio, with the archangels Michael and Gabriel above.
The basilica received its current shape between 1088 and 1099, when, at the behest of Bishop Anselmo III da Rho, it was radically rebuilt according to Romanesque architecture. The layout with three naves and three corresponding apses was inherited from the old church.
In 1492, the architect Donato Bramante was commissioned to design the new rectory, rebuilding some parts of the monastery and rearranging the layout of the church’s chapels.
In 1799, after the turmoil of the French Revolution, the Cisalpine Republic of Napoleon Bonaparte decided to suppress the chapter of the basilica and established a military hospital in the building. After the end of the Napoleonic domination, the church was reopened for worship and the canons were restored.
The church was heavily hit by the Anglo-American bombing of 1943, which destroyed the outer part of the portico, damaging also the dome of the basilica, the mosaic behind the altar and other external parts of the church. In the following years, a restoration work was carried out, completed in the 1950s.
The basilica of the 11th century inherited the plan of the ancient church – three apsidal naves without a transept, with a four-sided portico.
The gabled facade of the church, wide and flat, has two superimposed loggias – the lower one has five equal arches and is joined with the inner perimeter of the portico, while the upper one has five arches that grow in height depending on the profile of the slopes.
The portico has elegant arches supported by pillars flanked by semi-columns. The arches have a double ring, with the frames supported by small arches similar to those on the facade, while thin pilasters appear on the upper surfaces.
In the last span of the central nave, there is the presbytery with the high altar, added in the 10th century, decorated with gold, silver, precious stones and enamels. The altar is surmounted by the ciborium, commissioned by the Archbishop of Milan, Angilbert II. The ciborium rests on four columns in red porphyry and presents, on the four sides, high-reliefs in stucco.
HOW TO GET THERE
The closest Metro station is Sant’Ambrogio, located about 150 meters away from the church, on the Line 2. The closest bus stop is Carducci, located about 140 meters away, on the bus Line 94.