Basilica of Sant'Eustorgio: at one time, the relics of the Wise Men were here.
Basilica of Sant'Eustorgio: at one time, the relics of the Wise Men were here.
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Basilica of Sant'Eustorgio

General information

This is one of the oldest churches in Milan. It was founded in the 4th century, and rebuilt in the 19th century. Sant’Eustorgio originally housed the relics of the Three Kings, which were later subtracted and taken to Cologne by Frederick Barbarossa.

However, from the 13th century on, the church took on an important role, becoming the principal location for the Dominican Order in Milan from 1227.

The Basilica’s architectural structure is particularly complex. The interior has three naves. 

Nineteenth century excavations have revealed the existence of a more ancient church, whose apse, unique early Christian testimony that has come down to us, is under the choir of the current basilica. Built on a suburban necropolis of which there are significant traces, the early Christian building is set against an older straight wall, whose original form and destination are still unknown. 

The lack of other discoveries makes the reconstruction and the dating of the buildings sprung up in the cemetery very complex. It is impossible to determine whether the oldest building was a sepulchral chapel, a funerary enclosure or a place of worship.

It is also not clear if this building has arisen over the Christian graves of the IV and the V century or if these have been opened in the floor of an existing church. Surely the basilica had great importance in the religious life of the city, as evidenced by the spread of the legend of St. Barnabas the Apostle who would baptized here the first Christians, the burial of Bishop Eugenio and the memory of the relics of the Three Wise Men, traditionally placed in a sarcophagus of imperial donation.

To the basic Romanesque building, many chapels were added over the centuries following the church’s foundation, above all on its right-hand side.

Two of these chapels are particularly significant: the Brivio Chapel, dating to 1484, with a Renaissance tomb and a triptych by Bergognone; and the Portinari Chapel, built from 1462 on, commissioned by Pigello Portinari, and an example of Florentine art in Milan.

Inside, the upper sections of the walls were frescoed by Vincenzo Foppa between 1466 and 1468. The frescoes were rediscovered in 1871 (they had been obscured by layers of plaster), and restored in 1915.

Since the start of 2011 the exterior facades of the noble chapels have been brightened by soft permanent night lighting which enhances the beauty of the architecture and the purity of the brick decoration, a few years since the preservative restoration (1999).

The crowning glory of the installation is the star light on the bell tower, reminiscent of the star that guided the Three Wise Men.

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From the gate on the left of the basilica, one can gain access to the cloister and then the little museum of St. Eustorgio. Here it is also possible to visit the early Christian necropolis, which is full of tombs and funerary inscriptions; its oldest centre, datable to some time between the 3rd and 4th centuries, has its origins in the open burial ground that was once here.

From the former Chapter House of the early Dominican convent, it is possible to see the huge sacristy where a precious collection of relics and liturgical furnishings are located. The course of the museum ends with the Portinari Chapel. 

The Basilica is an important location for art as well as for its religious significance. The Portinari Chapel has a dome frescoed with religious stories, probably painted by Vincenzo Foppa.

A painting (attributed to Benedetto Bembo) in the Chapel shows the banker Pigello Portinari, kneeling in front of St. Peter Martyr.

The tomb in the late Gothic style in the present chapel was designed by the architect and sculptor from Pisa Giovanni di Balduccio between 1335 and 1339. The ark contains the remains of Peter Rosini, known as Peter Martyr or Peter from Verona, prior of Como, who died on Palm Sunday.

The prior, martyred in 1252, was assassinated by two gunmen in the woods of Farga, in Barlassina near Como. It is said that he just had time to write the word "believe" in the dust, and immediately died.

Anecdotes and curiosities

THE NECROPOLIS: under the central nave of the early medieval basilica some tombs from the Augustan age (late first century BC - early first century AD) have been found, as well as evidence of Christian burials dating from 377. The inscriptions and archaeological remains make identify in this area a suburban pre-ambrosian cemetery that long remained in operation and was also used from the twelfth to the sixteenth century as a source of relics.

THE EPIGRAPHS: the archaeological excavations of the years 1959-1960 have brought to light a number of inscriptions, useful to reconstruct which social groups were buried in this cemetery, as the recognition of an exorcist is crucial for dating with certainty the Christian transformation of the necropolis.

For centuries, the procession of the Three Wise Men has been held every year on the day of Epiphany. The procession starts from Piazza Duomo and reaches the Basilica of Sant'Eustorgio. It is one of the oldest traditions of Milan.

The façade was restored by Giovanni Brocca in 1862, and in this operation, houses that had been built abutting the façade were demolished. On the left side of the façade, there is a loggia (or pulpit) built in 1597, from which Cardinal Federico Borromeo preached in 1630. It is an ancient tradition that archbishops on their way to take up office in Milan enter the city through Porta Ticinese, and visit Sant’Eustorgio as their first stop.

The permanent night lighting and the star light were created by the architect Filippo Panzera creating a sort of contemporary scenic painting that enhances the charm of the ancient architecture.

The lamps and materials used are noteworthy for their energy efficiency and are part of a series of decorative lighting installations implemented in 2011 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Municipal Electric Company.

The same installations that enhance the windows of the Duomo, the Museum of Science and Technology and the facade of the Stazione Centrale.

Useful details

Many public transport routes can be used to reach the Basilica, such as trams 3, 9, 15, and buses 59 and 71.


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      • Ticket information

        Admission free

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