Sant’Ambrogio: the saint, the myth and the church

Ambrogio is one of the most important and beloved figure in the Milanese panorama. He was a rich, German gentleman who succeeded in giving to Milan its last period of splendor.

His life is jammed with countless legends. One of the most famous is the one known as “Sant’Ambrogio and the bees”, which tells how young Ambrogio, still in the cradle, had been attacked by a swarm of bees, that, unexpectedly, didn’t sting him, but rather deposited some honey on his lips. Clear sign of Ambrogio’s goodness. Another legend is the one that sees the Holy Saint falling asleep while saying mass. A gesture like that would have been considered outrageous. This is not the case: Ambrogio, after having waken up, informed those next to him of how he was not sleeping, but rather transported to St. Martin of Tours’ funeral. St. Martin was a very good friend of Ambrogio whom, he explained, was going to die after him, making it impossible for Ambrogio to say a last goodbye. Indeed, Ambrogio died before his friend and this saved him from the possible accusations of narcolepsy.

Skillful politician, he was able to combine political and religious authority, holding up to Emperor Theodosius and introducing the Ambrosian rite. On 7 December, 374 he was appointed bishop and ordered the construction of four basilicas at the four cardinal points of the city:

▪ basilica Martyrum, then called St. Ambrogio, in Porta Vercellina

▪ basilica Virginum, then called San Simpliciano, in Corso Garibaldi

▪ basilica Apostolurum, then called San Nazzaro, in Porta Romana

▪ basilica Profetarum, then called San Dionigi, the only one that does not exist anymore because it was demolished during the construction of the bastioni.

In addition, Ambrogio built the great episcopal complex in the area now occupied by the Duomo.

Let’s look more in detail at the basilica dedicated to the saint. From the very entrance, it is difficult to decide whether to turn right or left… there is so much to see! First of all, take note of the basilica plan with its three naves and, on the left, Bergognone’s Cristo Risorto, the column of the snake and Tiepolo’s frescos. In the apse, on the other hand, it is possible to admire the golden altar, built by Ciborio, with its amazing collection of mosaics. On the right, there is a golden grave in which the corps of Ambrogio, Protasio and Gervasio are kept…in the basilica, in short, you will undoubtedly breathe a medieval air.

Finally, before leaving you to another review, let us just tell you another legend, this one concerning the basilica itself. When entering it and looking to the left, you’ll notice a column with two small holes: some rumors say that here Ambrogio met the devil and kicked him so strongly that its horns penetrated the column in the exact point where you can now see the holes. Many people say that they can still smell the sulfur, symbol of the devil, arising from there. Do not worry if you cannot sense it and be content with the wonderment of the beauties of the basilica.

Additional information:

Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, 15, Milano, MI, Italia

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