San Bernardino alle Ossa

Just a few blocks behind the Milan Duomo, is a much smaller, less-travelled church. It is not particularly notable on the outside. It’s even a bit hard to find, with just one small sign indicating that there might be something interesting around. Inside, it’s a different story—because this church houses an ossuary-chapel that just happens to be decorated in thousands of human bones. 


I love this. I love this so much. 

In 1145, a hospital and cemetery were built in the area. By 1210, Dark Age medicine being less than stellar, the cemetery was declared full, and a room was built to house the excess bones. In 1269, the church was built next to this ossuary. Much of this ossuary was destroyed in a 1642 belltower collapse (it happens?), but it was rebuilt and repaired shortly after—this time decorated in the Rococo style, with frescos by Sebastiano Ricci and, thanks to the Plague and liberal execution of the death sentence for criminals, a fresh and plentiful supply of human bones. 

It’s a fascinating glimpse into the Medieval mindset—a time and place where death was so commonplace it was, well, decoration. 


Admission to the church and ossuary is free. More information about San Bernardino alle Ossa can be found here