Churches of Lombardia

Como • Milano


Rome has many interesting churches with fine art work worth a visit.   Many churches stay open all day but some close for a few hours in the afternoon.  These churches have free entrance (2006) but some have museums, cloisters, or archaeological areas with a fee.

Duomo di Milano

The Duomo and an equestrian statue at sunset


An exceptionally large and elaborate Gothic cathedral on the main square of Milan, the Duomo di Milano is one of the most famous buildings in Europe. It is the largest Gothic cathedral and the second largest Catholic cathedral in the world: only the cathedral of Seville is larger (St. Peter's Basilica doesn't count because it's not a cathedral). It is 157 meters long— 40,000 people can fit comfortably within.

The Duomo occupied the most important site in the ancient Roman city of Mediolanum. Saint Ambrose built a new basilica on this site at the beginning of the 5th century, with an adjoining basilica added in 836. When fire damaged both buildings in 1075, they were rebuilt as the Duomo.

In 1386 the archbishop, Antonio da Saluzzo, began the new project in a rayonnant Late Gothic style that is more characteristic of France than Italy.  Work proceeded for generations. The main spire was topped in 1762 with a polychrome statue of the Madonna, to whom the Duomo and its predecessor have always been dedicated.  Even now, some uncarved blocks remain to be turned into sculpture.   Gothic construction on the rest of the Duomo was largely complete in the 1880s.

The Duomo has been under major renovations and cleaning for several years, obscuring the glorious facade with scaffolding.   Works should be completed by early 2009.

The roof climb provides a unique and memorable opportunity to walk high on the roofs of the huge Gothic cathedral. The views are magnificent and the opportunity to see the pinnacles and sculptures close up along the way is worth the climb alone.

Entrance is from the north side of the cathedral (walk around left from the front). You can choose to walk up the stairs - which are solid, square, and more roomy than many cathedral stairways - or take an elevator for a higher price.






4th-century octagonal Baptistery of Milan

Baptismal font in which St. Augustine

may have been baptized


Beneath Milan's Duomo lies the Battistero Paleocristiano, ruins of a Early Christian Christian baptistery dating from the 4th century. The excavations also include the remains of earlier cathedrals.  The Battistero is a magnificent example of an ancient octagonal baptistery and it is almost certainly where St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, baptized St. Augustine.


Milan's first cathedral was completed by 355 AD, when a synod was held there, and the baptistery was almost certainly complete by then as well.  That makes it slightly newer than the Lateran Baptistery in Rome (the oldest baptistery in Europe) and older than the Baptistery of St. John in Poitiers (which is the oldest Christian building in France).

St. Ambrose became bishop of Milan in 374. He is credited with the inscription on the walls of the baptistery, which read:

Eight-niched soars this temple for sacred rites
Eight corners has its font
Right it is to build this baptismal hall about the sacred number eight
For here the people are reborn.

In Christian symbolism, the number eight represents eternity and rebirth, because the world was created in seven days and Christ rose from the dead on the eighth day.(!) Most Early Christian baptisteries, as well as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, were octagonal in plan.

St. Augustine came to Milan in 384 and was immediately impressed by the preaching of Bishop Ambrose. At first attending sermons to admire his rhetorical skill, Augustine was eventually moved by the message and converted to Catholic Christianity.   Ambrose baptized Augustine and his son Adeodatus on Easter Vigil in 387.  It is very likely that this momentous event - the baptism of one Latin Doctor of the Church by another - took place in this baptistery.






West facade from the great atrium - Basilica Sant'Ambrogio

:16th-century Byzantine reliefs in the atrium


The Romanesque Basilica (11th century)
The original basilica has been excavated beneath the existing building.  Foundations indicate it had two side aisles, a marble floor, a semicircular apse, and a four-columned baldacchino over the high altar. The west facade has not been located so the exact length of the nave is unknown, but it had at least 13 bays.

It almost certainly had a large west porch on the same foundations as the present one. If so, it was a huge complex of more than 300 Roman feet long and 100 feet wide, larger than contemporary basilicas in Rome.

The basilica was rebuilt in the Romanesque style in the 11th century and this is the building that survives today. Historical records are lacking when it comes to an exact date, but scholars believe it was probably begun around 1080 based on the history of architecture and engineering in Lombardy.

Historical records indicate that the old nave was still in use in 1067 and the new one was being used by 1093.  However, it seems the westernmost bay of the nave was not completed until the south tower was begun in 1123. The vault was probably not built until after the earthquake of 1117. The basilica was completed around 1128.


Central nave - Sant'Ambrogio

 12th-C ambo with 4th-C sarcophagus


Sarcophagus of Stilichone (4th cent.)
The Sarcophagus of Stililchone is a great treasure - not only is it a magnificent work of early Christian art, it is one of the few surviving elements from Ambrose's original basilica. It still stands in the exact same place it has been since it was carved in 385 AD - the ambo was built around it.  Moreover, it was carved during Ambrose's lifetime and its themes may have been suggested by the bishop himself.

Crypt of St. Ambrose
One of the most interesting sights in the Basilica of St. Ambrose is St. Ambrose himself!   He is on display in the crypt, accompanied by St. Gervasius and Protasius. His skeleton is glazed with a protective coating and dressed in full bishop's finery, complete with white mitre and dainty slippers.


The accompanying saints are 3rd-century martyrs who were disinterred by Ambrose for the altar of his new basilica. They originally were buried in the nearby Chapel of Sts. Nabore and Felice (now destroyed).

The crypt was built in the late 10th century as part of major renovations in the east end of the basilica. The great silver urn enclosing the relics dates from 1897.


Feet of St. Gervasius or Protasius, 3rd-cent.,

martyr buried with Ambrose

 Skeleton of St. Ambrose - display in the crypt





Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, housed in the former Dominican monastery church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, is one of the most famous paintings in the world.

The Renaissance masterpiece has enjoyed even more popular interest since the publication of the novel The Da Vinci Code, in which the painting and its artist play a major role in the central mystery.

Leonardo da Vinci painted The Last Supper in what was the order's refectory, now called the Cenacolo Vinciano, from 1495 to 1497.

Room displaying The Last Supper.

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

Santa Maria delle Grazie is itself a handsome church with a fine dome. The dome was added by Bramante, along with a cloister, about the time that Leonardo was commissioned to paint The Last Supper.

How did two such giants came to be employed decorating and remodeling the refectory and church of a comparatively modest religious order, rather than, say, the Duomo? The answer lies in the ambitious but unrealized plan to turn Santa Maria delle Grazie into a magnificent Sforza family mausoleum.  But two years after Leonardo finished The Last Supper, Ludovico il Moro Sforza was defeated and imprisoned in a French dungeon for the remaining eight years of his life.

For his masterpiece, Leonardo chose to work slowly and patiently in oil pigments, which demand dry plaster, instead of proceeding hastily on wet plaster according to the conventional fresco technique.

The Last Supper is an extremely complex and ambitious undertaking, so Leonardo did extensive research and created many studies and preparatory sketches before completing the painting. Twenty of these drawings have survived and are kept in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, where they have been stored since 1600. The priceless collection is surely just a small part of the immense preparation that was carried out.

Since its completion, the magnificent painting has had an almost unbelievable history of bad luck and neglect....


•  the fresco's deterioration began before the paint was even dry on the moisture-ridden walls. The fresco got a lot of well-intentioned but poorly executed "touching up" in the 18th and 19th centuries, which only caused further damage.

•  Napoléon's troops used the wall for target practice.


•  its near destruction in an American bombing raid in August 1943 was only the latest chapter in a series of misadventures.

•  Allied bombing during World War II tore off the room's roof, leaving the fresco exposed to the elements for 3 years.

Novelist Aldous Huxley called it "the saddest work of art in the world."  But finally, after years of restorers patiently cleaning one square centimeter after another, Leonardo's masterpiece is free of the shroud of scaffolding and centuries of retouching, grime, and dust.  Astonishing clarity and luminosity have been regained.




Duomo di Como


Como is a beautiful city on the lake.  You can easy reach Como from Milan by train in less then an hour or, if you are coming from North Europe, Como is the first city across the Swiss border. 


In Piazza del Duomo is the Cathedral with the famous Dôme, a splendid Cathedral of the Renaissance, built entirely of marble  began in 1396 stood at the place where the ancient Roman basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, remodeled in Renaissance style 1426-1596. The construction ended in 1740 with the completion of the cupola of Philip Juvara important example of Rococo in Italy.  The dimensions of the cathedral are: length 87 meters - width 36 - 56 meters high dome 75 meters.   On either side of the principal doorway, which has fine sculptured decorations, are statues (1498) of Pliny the Elder and Younger, natives of Como.


Inside, a Latin cross, is a Gothic nave in the three pillars on Renaissance and the transept topped by the dome.  The cathedral houses tapestries of the 16th and 17th century performed in Ferrara, Florence and Antwerp and 16th century paintings of Bernardino Luini and Gaudenzio Ferrari.

San Fedele

Main apse of the basilica

detail of the doorway


The Basilica of San Fedele is dedicated to St. Fidelis martyr.

Stems from an earlier Christian church dating back to the 7th century dedicated to Santa Eufemia.  Important works of Romanesque Lombard is the choir, inspired by the Palatine Chapel of Aachen, with a sculptural decoration of Magistri cumacini with figures zoomorphous, monsters, griffins, and so on.

Development Romanesque is the original plant with three naves irregular grafted to a central facility, also for the irregular size dell'abside minor compared to the two main transept, travelled from ambulatory covered by women's galleries.  Rear is the barrel vault on the nave with arches backbone to-eardrum.  The restoration of Antonio Giussani have altered the facade (1914) and the campanile (1905).  Intra-Roman pieces are back above the portal carved in Romanesque and capital adapted to water dell'ambulacro north on stiloforo lion.



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