Church of S. Bernardino alle Ossa and the veneration of the ossuary
Church of S. Bernardino alle Ossa and the veneration of the ossuary
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Chiesa di San Bernardino alle Ossa

General information

The origins of the church and the ossuary date back to the thirteenth century and are linked to the history of the Brolo hospital that now no longer exists.
In 1642 both edifices were severely damaged by the collapse of the bell tower of the nearby church of Santo Stefano. The ossuary was rapidly repaired and the church was rebuilt in 1750 in Baroque and Rococo style by architects Andrea Biffi and Carlo Giuseppe Merlo, the latter of which worked on the project for the main spire of the Duomo.
Due to the regular alignment of the windows on the exterior the façade is more reminiscent of a stately eighteenth-century palazzo than a baroque church. The interior of the church has an octagonal plan with two side chapels and baroque marble altars.
A narrow corridor to the right of the entrance gives access to the chapel ossuary. It is a small square room adorned with an altar and a niche with the statue of Madonna Addolorata (Our Lady of Sorrows) kneeling before the body of Jesus.

The walls are almost entirely covered with skulls and bones, arranged in niches and on cornices, pillars and doors. They are believed to be the remains of the deceased from the Brolo hospital, from the corpses taken from the defunct seventeenth-century cemeteries. The skulls enclosed in cases above the door are those of executed prisoners.

The ossuary chapel was once decorated with frescoes by Sebastiano Ricci, a precursor of Tiepolo who introduced Venetian Baroque painting to Milan. They represented a "Triumph of souls in a flight of angels" and the glory of the four patron saints: Santa Maria Vergine, S.Ambrogio, S.Sebastiano and S.Bernardino da Siena.

Don't miss

In the chapel to the right of the nave there is a baroque marble altar with an altarpiece by Federico Ferrario representing “Santa Maria Maddalena in casa del fariseo” (St. Mary Magdalene in the house of the Pharisee).
The family tomb of some descendants of Christopher Columbus’ maternal family is in the same chapel: Pietro Antonio and Giovanni di Portogallo Colon Conti della Puela e della Veragua; the family coat of arms with the motto: “Colon diede il Nuovo Mondo alla Castiglia e al Leon” (Colon gave the New World to Castile and Leon) can be seen at the sides of the altar.


Anecdotes and curiosities

According to legend, on November 2nd, All Souls Day, a young girl, whose remains are found near the altar of the ossuary, comes back to life and lures other skeletons in a macabre dance.

The statue of Santa Maria Addolorata (St. Mary of Sorrows) placed above the altar of the ossuary is also known as Nostra Signora Dolorosa de Soledad. Both the name and the clothes are reminiscent of the work carried out by Gerolamo Cattaneo during the period of Spanish domination (mid-seventeenth century).


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