A must-see for anyone interested in early Christian art and architecture.
It may not be as big as the duomo, but in many ways, this is probably the most important church in Milan. It was first founded in the 4th century, by Sant’Ambrogio (St Ambrose), then Bishop of Milan, who is now “buried” in the crypt. Actually, rather disconcertingly, he’s in full view, regally dressed, in a large bronze and crystal glass container, along with Saints Protasio and Gervasio. He is considered to be one of four Latin Doctors of the early church, a huge influence on early doctrine.
The crypt is all that remains of the early church. The rest of the building, with its rather austere red brick facade, dates mainly from the 9th–11th centuries and set the tone for the Lombard Gothic style that spread across north Italy. It was used for the coronations of nine Italian kings, four of whom are buried here.
Other highlights to look out for in the main church are Bramante’s 'Portico dell Canonica', the bomb-damaged remains of a fresco by Tiepolo and the Ciborium, a decorative canopy with Byzantine Lombard stucco work supported by four recycled Roman columns. Beneath it is the Carolingian Golden Altar, made by Volvinio and donated to the church by archbishop Angilberto II in 830. There is also a magnificent 12th-century ambo, beneath which is a superb 4th-century carved sarcophagus. Also make sure you visit the little chapel at the far end of the south aisle, the Sacello di San Vittore. This tiny martyr's memorial chapel predates even the first church and was redecorated in the 5th century with glittering gilded mosaics, including a portrait of St Ambrose.