Located in the heart of the city, and second in size only to the Duomo, the Basilica of Santa Maria della Passione was commissioned by the rich prelate Daniele Birago (1486) who then bequeathed it to the Lateran Canons Regular of St. Augustine.
Due to the complexity of the building, the construction work extended over a lengthy period from the end of the fifteenth century to the first half of the eighteenth century.
In the sixteenth century the original layout of a Greek cross was extended to a Latin cross, with three front aisles. The original designer, Giovanni Battagio, was followed by Cristoforo Lombardo who completed the dome. The Baroque façade, designed by the sculptor Giuseppe Rusnati, presents reliefs with scenes from the Passion of Christ.
The church’s chapels contain many paintings of great value: Il Cristo alla Colonna (Christ at the Column) by Giulio Cesare Procaccini, L’apparizione della Madonna a Caravaggio (Madonna of the Caravaggio) attributed to Bramantino and Il digiuno di San Carlo Borromeo (St. Charles Borromeo Fasting) by Daniele Crespi.
Paintings on the pillars of the presbytery are mostly by Daniele Crespi, recounting the episodes of the Passion of Christ, amongst which the most important is Il Cristo inchiodato alla Croce (Christ Nailed to the Cross).
The Basilica of Santa Maria della Passione has such a great number of paintings that it can be considered as a real art gallery. Main testimony to this is a series of works: L’ultima cena (The Last Supper) by Gaudenzio Ferrari in the left transept, the cycle of frescoes in the Sala Capitolare, by Ambrogio da Fossano known as Bergognone, that represent Christ and the apostles on the walls, the saints in the lunettes, and Lateran canons on the starry sky.
The Deposizione di Cristo con i Santi Ambrogio e Agostino (Deposition of Christ with S. Ambrose and S. Augustine) attributed to Bernardino Luini, is located in the right transept.
The Basilica of Santa Maria della Passione has two rare carved organs that are positioned one in front of the other, built between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The right-hand one is by Antegnati, the left by Valvassori. Still today classical organ music concerts for four hands are held in the church.
The adjacent monastery now houses the historic "Giuseppe Verdi" Conservatory. The great symphonic and choral hall can accommodate 1,800 people. The library has over 80,000 volumes, 400,000 music literature booklets and numerous precious manuscripts by composers such as, amongst others, Mozart, Paisiello, Rossini, Verdi and Bellini.