Ossuary of San Bernardino and other Milanese curiosities


Ossuary of San Bernardino and other Milanese curiosities

A few steps from Milan Cathedral you can find fascinating places surrounded by a veil of mystery

Ossuary of San Bernardino and other Milanese curiosities


Capital of Lombardy as well as fashion, welcomes more than one million inhabitants and 2500 years of history. It is one of the most important and emblematic cities in Italy, full of places of great interest. Apart from the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Manuele II a few steps from the square we can find singular corners and not very familiar.

San Bernardino ossuary

A visiting Milan is a must stop for a selfie with the cathedral behind or walk through the adjacent gallery admiring the shop windows. But if we continue towards the square of Santo Stefano we will find the Basilica of the same name and to its left the church of San Bernardino alle Ossa.

Let’s go straight to the point. Once inside the church of San Bernardino alle Ossa has a small corridor to its right which leads to a particular room if not a bit macabre. This is a room with a square base with thousands of human bones on its walls! Yes, you got it right! Skulls, femurs and tibias are placed against the walls in an orderly and precise way to decorate the sides, even forming large crosses. Looking up we will see a beautiful frescoed painting by Sebastiano Ricci called “Triumph of souls in flight of angels”. Work completed in 1695.

Ossuary of San Bernardino and other Milanese curiosities


The bones and a bit of history

But who are all these bones?

Are they true? Certainly! A bit of history is necessary. In the 12th century the Brolo hospital was erected, now no longer existing with a cemetery attached. Due to the poor capacity of the latter it was decided to build a chapel to house the bones of the dead. The story tells that in 1642 the bell tower of the Basilica of Santo Stefano Maggiore collapsed destroying the adjacent church. The Confraternity of Disciplini, monks who wore a characteristic hood that covered the entire face, decided to rebuild it. This time, however, in a completely original way, they used the bones of the cemetery to decorate the interior walls.

San Bernardino to the Bones proved so unique and fascinating that even the king of Portugal Giovanni V decided to build one in Evora near Lisbon in 1728. Last call Capela dos Ossos.


Ossuary of San Bernardino and other Milanese curiosities

Burial ground of the Cà Granda

Leaving the church of San Bernardino, the surprises are not finished. In fact, heading towards the Maggiore hospital we can go into the tomb of Ca ‘Granda. A pleasant guided tour leads to the crypt of the Church of the Annunciation. His low vaults have the remains of the pictorial decorations of Paolo Antonio de ‘Maestri “Volpino” together with a scant altar and mighty columns. Below the crypt is the burial ground, which was used to pile up the bodies of the deceased of the hospital. It is estimated that more than 150,000 bodies have been deposited there! The guide tells that, thanks to anthropological studies on the rest, it was possible to discover diseases, methods of treatment and even a case of dwarfism! The fallen of the Five Days of Milan were initially stored in this burial ground.

Ossuary of San Bernardino and other Milanese curiosities

The historical archive

The visit continues to the adjacent historical archive, which preserves all the documents from the first hospitals in Milan up to the creation of the Ospedale Maggiore. Among the various documents, dating back to the year one thousand, emerges the founding act of the hospital signed by Francesco Sforza himself. It is therefore a historic and fascinating place for the quality of conservation and for its original history.

Ossuary of San Bernardino and other Milanese curiosities

To book a visit you can visit the ARSE link.

Milan is not just fashion and entertainment but also fascinating culture and history!

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Marco Pachiega