The Sant’Ambrogio Basilica is located in the south-eastern part of central Milan and is considered the second most important church in the city. Built in the 4th century, the basilica is dedicated to the patron saint of Milan. The main attractions are the crypt and the San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro Chapel.
Sant’Ambrogio Basilica Milan
Address, Opening Hours and Admission
The address of the Basilica of St. Ambrose is Piazza Sant’Ambrogio 15 – 20123 Milan (tel. +39 0286450895). Metro: Sant’Ambrogio (line MM2). Bus: 50, 58, 94. Opening hours: From 10:00 to 18:00 (Sunday from 15:00 to 17:00). Entrance fee: The basilica is free. The Cappella di San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro can be visited for a fee (price unknown). Handicapped: Fully accessible.
An annual event is the Fiera degli Oh bej! Oh bej!, a flea market held from December 7 to the following Sunday.
The original basilica was built in the year 379 on the site where the Saints Gervasio and Protasio were buried. The construction lasted until 386.
The bishop of Milan, Ambrose, had the church built with the idea of having the remains of all the martyrs placed there. In 397, when he himself was buried there, the original name, Basilica Martyrum, was changed to the present one.
In 789, a Benedictine monastery was built next to the basilica.
In the 9th and 10th centuries, Bishop Angilberto II had the ciborium, rectory and apse added.
From 1080, the nave and atrium were rebuilt. After this, almost every century has witnessed some kind of major change in the structure of the basilica.
The facade of the church is characterized by two loggias on top of each other, flanked by two bell towers. The bell tower on the left dates back to the 12th century, while the campanile on the right is three centuries older.
The interior is characterized by three naves with cross vaults separated by columns. Along the side naves are matroneums (kind of balconies for women, inside of churches).
What to see in the Sant’Ambrogio Basilica
San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro chapel
The 7th chapel on the right leads to the famous San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro Chapel. This little chapel was built in the 4th century by Bishop Materno to house the mortal remains of San Vittore. Tradition has it that Ambrose also had his brother Satiro buried here. After Satiro’s beatification, the chapel was incorporated into the basilica in the 5th century.
The famous mosaics on the walls and ceiling of the chapel depict the saints Ambrose, Gervaso, Protaso and Materno. The portrait of the city’s patron saint is considered the most realistic one of the four.
Ciborium and golden altar
In the middle of the presbytery is the ciborium, which rests on four columns dating back to Roman times. The canopy is decorated with colorful plasterwork from the 10th century. The Altare d’Oro underneath the ciborium is made of gold and silver and worked with a special kind of scalpel called a cesella. The incisions depict the “History of Christ and Sant’Ambrogio” and were made by Volvinio in the year 835. Beneath the altar are the relics of various saints.
In the apse is a large mosaic made partly in the 4th and partly in the 8th century. It depicts “The Redeemer between Saints Gervasio and Protasio and two archangels.” It also depicts two events in the life of Saint Ambrose.
One enters the basilica through the atrium, which was built between 1088 and 1099.
The relief on the left portal shows Sant’Ambrogio.
The central portal is decorated with minute carvings interspersed with monstrous figures. The decorations were added between the 8th and 10th centuries.
In the second bay of the central nave, on the left, you can see a column with a bronze snake dating back to the Byzantine period (10th century).
The third bay houses the Sarcophagus of Stilicone (4th century). Above it there is a pulpit made of 11th century elements.
The wooden choir is located above the crypt and was carved with Gothic motifs between 1469 and 1471.
Inside the crypt is a silver urn from 1897 containing the bodies of Saints Ambrosio, Gervasio and Protasio.
Chapel 1 right: “Descent from the Cross and Saints” (Gaudenzio Ferrari, fresco).
Chapel 2 right: “Martyrdom of San Vittore” and “Shipwreck of San Satiro” (Tiepolo, frescoes, originally in the Sacello di S. Vittore).
Chapel 6 right: Paintings and frescoes by Lanino.
Chapel 1 left: “Christ and Angels” (Bergognone).
The so-called Portico della Canonica was made in 1492 by Bramante, who reused the original materials for it after the gate had been damaged in wartime. In 1499, after the fall of Ludovico il Moro, the portico was left unfinished.
The dome is decorated with mosaics depicting saints and dates back to the 5th century.
Behind the basilica you can see the convent with two cloisters designed by Bramante and dating back to 1498. Today it is the seat of the Catholic University.
Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, Milan
The irregularly shaped Piazza Sant’Ambrogio lies on the street formerly called Stradone di Sant’Ambrogio, which used to run alongside the basilica. The Catholic Sacro Cuore University incorporates what remains of the old monastery, including the two cloisters from 1513 and 1630. Early Christian tombs were found under the square in 2018.