When you hear the words Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milano, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper immediately comes to mind, as it is in the refectory of the church’s adjoining Dominican convent that his immortal Unesco heritage masterpiece is conserved.
But Leonardo's unrivalled work is not the only cultural gem to admire here: a visit to the awesome church takes visitors back to Milano’s golden era. A historic period of great splendour for the city, which saw an unparalleled flourishing of art and culture under the Visconti and Sforza families. Most notably, the court of Ludovico il Moro and Beatrice d’Este was known as being the richest and most sumptuous in Italy: the city of Milano played host to the most renowned and learned artists, musicians, poets and philosophers over the years: Leonardo was the greatest of them all.
The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie was founded in 1463 thanks to the contribution of Count Gasparo Vimercati, Francesco Sforza’s commander of the troops. Still existing and dating back to that era, is a chapel dedicated to the Madonna delle Grazie (Madonna of the Graces), a venerated beneficial presence.
Under the direction of Renaissance Master Architect Donato Bramante a very large church was built around the chapel with a single apse beneath an imposing drum-shaped dome ,which is well worth admiring from the outside before entering.
Do not miss the Chiostro delle rane (Frog Cloister), which is particularly charming in springtime. The small cloister is located to the back of the church and is called thus because of the four bronze frogs that adorn the rim of the central circular fountain. Each frog spurts a small jet of water towards the centre of the basin. The cloister is completely square, five terracotta arches on each side supported by columns and marble capitals with Renaissance motifs. A perfect location for a break away from the bustle of the city streets.
According to Milanese legend, in order to easily access his favourite church, where his wife had been originally buried, Ludovico il Moro commissioned the digging of a tunnel connecting the Castello Sforzesco to the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent.