Milan is rich in places hidden and unknown to its own inhabitants.
One of these is the small church of San Bernardino alle Ossa, with its ossuary built by the Confraternity of the Disciplines, which is today one of the most disturbing, macabre, and at the same time astonishing places in the city of Milan.
The church is located in Piazza Santo Stefano next to the Basilica of Santo Stefano Maggiore. The Church was built by the Disciples, a term derived from the practice of self-reliance with which the faithful accompanied their prayers and designating those who drove through the streets of Milan with a cap covered. The origins of the complex date back to 1127 with the construction of Brolo Hospital for the care of lepers and as a cemetery.
Inadequate capacity led to the creation of the current ossuary in 1210 and in 1269 the creation of the small church next door. When in 1642 the steeple of Basilica di Santo Stefano collapsed, destroying a part of the façade, the reconstruction work was carried out by the architect Carlo Buzzi, and on this occasion, the walls of the altar were decorated with skulls and tibias.
The church has octagonal planes: at its center, right in front of the main altar, there is a grate that leads to the crypt of the Disciples. The ossuary is on the right side of the church, with a square-shaped plant, which houses a statue of the Madonna of Sorrows.
The walls are decorated with compositions made of real human bones. From the crosses on the side walls to the letter M on top, all the remains seem to be there to restore the sense of the fall of life. Below the altar are placed decomposed bodies.
The skulls that characterize the whole environment belong to the deceased patients in Brolo Hospital, to the remains of sixteenth-century cemeteries and condemned to death.
Looking up to the chapel of the altar one can admire a beautiful fresco by Sebastiano Ricci. The unique and unusual environment struck also the king of Portugal John V who visited the macabre structure in 1728 and decided to erect an identical church in Evora.
Different legends are told about the ossuary. Among them, the most disturbing is the one telling that between the various bones there is the body of a little girl who during the night of All Saints lives and with other skeletons breaks into the chapel for a macabre dance of the dead.
How to reach: Metro Duomo, Bus 54, 60, 61, 73, Tram 12, 19, 24
Address: Via Verziere, 2, 20122 Milano MI