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Wonder
Wonder  }  Place of worship

San Bernardino at the Bones

A sinister place that frightens and fascinates

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Where is

Lombardia

Via Verziere, 2, 20122 Milano MI, Italia (120m s.l.m.)

Directions
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What it is and where it is

The Church of San Bernardino alle Ossa is a small church in the heart of Milan, a few steps from the Duomo. It belonged to the order of the Disciplines, who decided to completely line the ossuary with the remains of the dead from a nearby hospital, their own brethren, but also those of those condemned to be beheaded and those who died in prison. It was in fact they who were responsible for accompanying criminals to the gallows and convincing them to repent of their sins. The stories and legends about this church are many, but so many words are not enough to describe the sense of disquiet that grips me when I visit this church.

Why it is special

The ossuary is accessed via a corridor that presents itself on the right as soon as you cross the entrance to the church. Its walls, which are almost entirely covered with human bones and skulls, challenge visitors, forcing them to reflect on themselves and their journey. Bones also adorn doors, pillars and niches, a ubiquitous decoration reminding us of the ephemeral nature of life.

Not to be missed

The vault of the ossuary chapel, is a true spectacle, as well as an ingenious complement to the macabre walls. Masterfully frescoed by Sebastiano Ricci, forerunner of Tiepolo, it introduces Venetian Baroque painting to Milan, but above all, it gives us a hope: no matter how doomed our fate is to death, waiting for us, above, there is always a serene, eternal sky.

A bit of history

The origins of the church date back to 1127, along with the foundation of the Hospital of St. Barnabas in Brolo and the Hospital of St. Stephen on the Wheel. A cemetery was also built in what constituted the Archbishop's brolo at the time. Soon the cemetery proved insufficient to hold the dead of the nearby hospital, so a special chamber was built in 1210, while it was not until 1269 that the church dedicated to St. Bernardino was added next door.

Trivia

Legend has it that among the remains in the Ossuary are those of a little girl who, on All Saints' Eve, would come to life along with those of other skeletons, enlivening the chapel with dances.

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You would like to lower your gaze, to run away, but the instant you are about to do so, you realize you can't do it: you want to see more, to observe carefully, and the line between what scares you and what attracts you becomes incredibly thin.

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