Church San Bernardino’s Ossuary

Church San Bernardino’s Ossuary

In the Church of San Bernardino in Milan there is a small chapel used as an ossuary. A rather grim and macabre sight for our eyes of a heap of human skulls and bones in one place perfectly communicates a scene of excruciating human suffering that surprisingly enough started to draw in flocks of tourists. There is another church in the same yard – The Church of Saint Stefano, where famous Caravaggio was baptized and in front of which the Duke of Milan was assassinated.

Church of San Bernardino alle Ossa
In the 12th century, a hospital to treat patients suffering from leprosy and a graveyard for the deceased were constructed in this place. The graveyard proved to have insufficient space in order to accommodate for all the departed, so a building called “Ossario” was constructed in order to receive  the  remains collected from the cemetery. The church was added to this building in the 13th century (the Church of San Bernardino alle Ossa). In the 17th century, the church was damaged when the bell tower of the nearby church (Santo Stefano) fell off. The church was refurbished after this incident, and it was then that the walls with skulls and bones within the section called “ossario” ( ‘ossa’ means bones in Italian) were discovered. In the 18th century the church was completely destroyed by fire only to be  renovated yet again.
(!) Ossario of the church is located to the right on entering the church.

The Church of Saint Stefano
This church is much older than the adjacent one, it was built in the fifth century. It was even called “in brolo” which means in the garden, because it was built on the terrain which was used as formal gardens by the archbishops of Milan. The church was destroyed in the fire in the 11th century and it underwent a number of changes during the 15th, 17th and 19th century.

Interesting facts

  • In 1738, the King of Portugal John V was deeply touched by the Church of San Bernardino and its “ossario” that he decided to build a replica of it in Evora, close to Lisbon.
  • The skulls located in a separate cabinet within the church’s ossuary actually belonged to the beheaded prisoners that were also buried at the same graveyard as the deceased patients.
  • In 1476, in front of the Saint Stefano Church, Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza was murdered the day after Christmas. He was assassinated by three chief conspirators. The first one blamed the Duke for the loss of his family property, the second one was a republican idealist whereas the third one believed that the Duke took his sister’s virginity.
  • On 30th September 1571, Michelangelo Merisi (one of the most famous Italian painters, also called Caravaggio) was baptized in the Church of Saint Stefano.

Ticket prices for the Church San Bernardino’s Ossuary
The admission to both churches is FREE of charge.

Working hours of the Church Sait Bernardino’s Ossuary
Church of San Bernardino alle Ossa
Monday-Friday 08:00-12:00h / 13:30-18:00h.
Saturday 9:30-12:30h.
Sunday 9:30-12:30h.
Church of Saint Stefano
Monday-Friday 9:30-18:00h.
Saturday 13:00-19:30h.
Sunday 9:00-19:30h.

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