In Corso Magenta there is a church with an anonymous facade.
It happens that people pass by it without even noticing it: as a matter of fact, it mingles among the elegant shop windows and the coming and going of passers-by.
Once inside, however, it’s all another story: one immediately realizes to have discovered one of the most precious treasures of the city, the church of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore.
The existence of the monastery is documented already in the Carolingian period: however, its walls have much more ancient origins and belong, in fact, to the Maximian’s era.
The construction of the church, as we know it today, began in 1503. We know the exact year because it is engraved on a stone found on the apse and still treasured there. All the documents concerning it projects have been lost, so it’s pretty impossible to know for certain to whom we owe this architectural and religious treasure. It is likely, however, that he was the architect and sculptor Gian Giacomo Dolcebuono, who at the time was also in charge for the construction of the cupola of the Duomo in Milan.
The church was completed in a very short time: already in 1509 the first tombstones were placed.
The facade, however, was finished only later, in 1574 by Francesco Pirovano.
The church was designed as to be divided into two parts: one front and public area, dedicated to the people visiting the church, and another one, wider and reserved exclusively to the nuns of the monastery. The nuns had the absolute obligation not to cross the dividing wall. The doors between the two areas were, in fact, locked and opened only once the convent was shut down, in the nineteenth century. It was later used as a barracks first, then as girls’ school and finally as a military hospital. Over the years, the second cloister was also separated from the church and it turned into the Archaeological Museum of Milan.
The first thing to observe, entering San Maurizio, is its structure, which strikes for its originality. It is still preserved, in fact, part of the division between monastic and public spaces, this last one facing the street: the division is made evident by the Choir of the Nuns, a partition reserved to the nuns so that they could attend Mass.
The real show, however, lies in the decoration of the church, true masterpiece of paintings, stucco and frescoes that fill every wall, both in the public and in the religious space.
We need to thank Bernardino Luini for this: the artist, in fact, worked in the church from 1522 to 1529, portraying stories of saints, parables and biblical episodes. The Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi has defined its extraordinary works as something so beautiful to remind of a “Sistine Chapel of Milan”.
Among the works that arouse more interest are the great frescoes of Noah’s Ark in the Nuns Choir: interesting the presence of unicorns, which, according to the optimistic and dreamy mind Luini, had not been lost. Not to be missed is also the fresco depicting St. Maurizio and St. Sigismund while offering the former a model of the church.