The Church of San Bernardino alle Ossa and the Ossuary are one of the most curious attractions in Milano.
Built near the Brolo Hospital, dedicated to the assistance to lepers (now destroyed), the church was built in 1269 near the Ossuary, that was built in 1210 to bury the bones of the dead from the Hospital.
The church was rebuilt in 1750 in Baroque and Rococo style, but the façade is more reminiscent of a stately eighteenth-century palazzo than a baroque church. The interior of the church has an octagonal plan with two side chapels and baroque marble altars.
What will impress you the most during your visit will be the Ossuary. A narrow corridor to the right of the entrance of the church gives access to the chapel. It is a small square room adorned with an altar and a niche with the statue of Madonna Addolorata (Our Lady of Sorrows) kneeling before the body of Jesus.
The walls are almost entirely covered with skulls and bones, arranged in niches and on cornices, pillars and doors. They are believed to be the remains of the deceased from the Brolo hospital, from the corpses taken from the defunct seventeenth-century cemeteries. The skulls enclosed in cases above the door are those of executed prisoners.
The ossuary chapel is decorated with frescoes by Sebastiano Ricci, a precursor of Tiepolo who introduced Venetian Baroque painting to Milano. They represented a Triumph of souls in a flight of angels and the glory of the four patron saints: Santa Maria Vergine, S. Ambrogio, S. Sebastiano and S. Bernardino da Siena.
The family tomb of some descendants of Christopher Columbus’ maternal family is in the chapel to the right of the nave of the church: Pietro Antonio and Giovanni di Portogallo Colon Conti della Puela e della Veragua. The family coat of arms with the motto: “Colon diede il Nuovo Mondo alla Castiglia e al Leon” (Colon gave the New World to Castile and Leon) can be seen at the sides of the altar.
According to legend, on November 2nd, All Souls Day, a young girl, whose remains are found near the altar of the ossuary, comes back to life and lures other skeletons in a macabre dance.