Basilica di San Lorenzo, Milano

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Basilica di San Lorenzo, Milano

The Basilica of Saint Lawrence (Italian: Chiesa di San Lorenzo Maggiore) is a church in Milan, northern Italy, dedicated to the Christian martyr St. Lawrence.


Various suggestions of its origin have been made, including a foundation in c.370., the Basilica of San Lorenzo was renovated and redecorated in the 16th century. It has however maintained the original Byzantine structure, with a dome and four towers resembling those of Constantinople's Hagia Sofia. A recent detailed stratiographic study of the walls identified five phases of construction in antiquity from Theodosius I to the early Lombard period.


The church is a quatrefoil central-plan building, with a double-shell layout, consisting of an open central area (the inner shell) surrounded by an ambulatory (the outer shell). The quatrefoil design is expressed in four exedrae (semicircular recesses) of two stories, with five arches per exedra. As usual for the period, the interior had a matroneum (balcony for female worshippers), now partially disappeared. Also the polychrome interior decoration is now missing. The dome was also rebuilt in Baroque style after the original had crumbled down.

Chapel of Saint Aquilino

Other chapels were added to the original edifice. Notable is the octagonal Capella di Sant'Aquilino (chapel of St. Aquilino), adjoining the main church to the south. The chapel, which may have originally been built as an imperial Roman mausoleum, features important 4th century Paleochristian mosaics. Among the mosaics is included a formulaic depiction of Jesus, as "Christ the Lawgiver" ("Traditio Legis" - "handing over the law") or possibly "Christ the teacher." Jesus is seated on a throne, flanked by a "school" of his Apostles, with a scroll box at his feet. The chapel was later dedicated to the martyr Saint Aquilino of Milan (or Saint Aquilinus of Cologne), with his remains being housed in the chapel. A 17th century reliquary ark for the saint was crafted by Lombardian architect Carlo Garavaglia (flourished 1634-1635). The fresco The Rediscovery of Saint Aquilinus of Cologne's Corpse, by Carlo Urbino, decorates the wall behind the main altar in the Sant'Aquilino chapel.

Colonne di San Lorenzo

The square facing the basilica features the so-called "Colonne di San Lorenzo" (Columns of St. Lawrence), one of the few remains of the Roman "Mediolanum", dating from the 3rd century AD and probably belonging to the large baths built by the emperor Maximian. They were carried in the current place when the basilica construction was finished.

The apse area of the ancient basilica is now a park. Previously the area was occupied by a channel or a lake (probably with a port), while later it was used in public executions, one of which is recounted in Alessandro Manzoni's Storia della Colonna Infame.



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