The Basilica of St. Ambrose is an ancient and spectacular church situated in the centre of Milan. It is a wonderful example of Romanesque architecture in Lombardy and together with the Duomo, both are the most important monuments of the city. If you are planning to spend your time in the city with the company of your escort, take the opportunity to visit them.
The church was built by the bishop Ambrose between 379 and 386 and in origin had a different name: it was called Basilica Martyrum as the building was erected over a big area of a cemetery containig the rests of numerous persecuted and buried Christian martyrs. In that time there was a religious conflict between two factions - Arianism and Nicene – which involved the local churches putting them one against the other: Ambrose took the decision to stay with Nicene side. He supported them by constructing other three churches such as San Nazaro in Brolo, San Simpliciano and San Dionigi with a lot of Nicene symbols.
In the 4th century Milan was a little town and the Basilica was erected in the perifery, but in the following years the city grew up surronding the building which became part of the city centre. After the construction was completed, since the 9th century it faced several modifications and it was partially rebuilt in the 11th century becaming a church in Romanesque style: since the 12th century it assumed the appearance that you and your escort can see today.
The Basilica was an important religious centre and saw the development of different canons communities. In 789 was created a monastery and later there were inside two separated monastic orders which had their typical living rules: the two towers are the symbol of their contemporary presence. The church had a deep influence on social and political life in north Italy and also in Ticino, becaming a basic reference: it was signed here the “peace of St. Ambrose” in 1528.
About the architectural structure, the church is a “basilica type” made mostly in brickwork of various colors and stone: it is not certain the exact date when it was renewed in the current romanesque style but probably it was around 1080. Its exterior is quite different from the other churches of that time and not so common as there are a large atrium – dated to 1098 - and two towers of different heights. The tower situated in the south part is called Monks’ Tower and dates around the 10th century while the other tower situated in the north part is called Canons’Tower and dates around the 12th century.
The main entrance of the church is a wonderful atrium of 4 columns which will introduce you and your escort in a sacred and magic atmosphere and after that there is a central nave which has a high vault, two side aisles and an apse; the interior is a magnificent place full of medieval art.
Situated in the north part of the central nave there is an Ambo which is an ancient and characteristical pulpit built between 1130 and 1143 over the Sarcophagus of Stilichone: this pulpit was used by the monks and canons in Milan for their lectures. It is decorated with reliefs representing different themes such as the Last Supper, the Magi before Herod, the Adoration of the Magi, the Labor of Adam and Eve and others. On one of his sides is possible to see two sculpures which date from the early 8th century and are a wonderful example of medieval art: one sculpture is an eagle which represents St. John Evangelist and the other is an angel which represents St. Matthew Evangelist.
The Sarcophagus of Stililchone is a 4th century tomb that is attributed traditionally to the general Theodosius but probably was ordered by a military official or a person belonged to the high society of Milan, which identity is not certain. It is considered a manificent element of the Basilica as it is very ancient and it survived from the original building. There are different sculpures carved by a Roman artist representing Christ, the Apostles and biblical scenes of the Old Testament.
Inside the Basilica, situated just in front of the nave, you and your escort can observe that there is a presbitery hosting a 9th century Golden Altar, created in 824-859 by Volvinius using precious stones; the Altar is protected by the ciborium which was commissioned by the archbishop of Milan Angilbert II and it is made of ancient columns in red porphyry.