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Art & History

The Feast of St. Ambrose, Patron of Milan

News > Art & History | The Feast of St. Ambrose, Patron of Milan

Every Italian town has its own saint patron protecting it. The one in Milan is called Ambrose (Ambrogio).

In addition to protecting the people of Milan from daily misfortunes, he also provides them with a holiday day: on the 7th of December, in fact, the people of Milan celebrate S. Ambrogio.

Saint Ambrose: between history and legend


To retrace the history of this extraordinary individual, we must go back in time till 339 AD. Aurelius Ambrogio was born into a prominent Roman family.

The legend says that, while Ambrogio was sleeping in his cradle, a swarm of bees flew on his mouth. The father, clearly surprised, exclaimed: “If this child will live, he will surely become a great man.” The family had been Christian for many generations: Ambrogio wished to take the administrative career as his father; therefore he started his classical studies in the best Roman schools.

Appointed as governor of the Roman province of Aemilia et Liguria, Ambrogio became famous for his great speaking skills which managed to keep peaceful relations between Arians and Catholics, that at that time were very problematic. Before long, he became so appreciated that legend says that, during the election of the Arian Aussenzio as bishop of Milan, a chorus raised from the people, saying “Ambrogio bishop!”.

The people of Milan wanted a Catholic as their new bishop, but Ambrogio refused the job, feeling unprepared. Some testimonies say that, in order to persuade the people, Ambrogio ordered the torture of some defendants and invited over to his house some prostitutes. The people of Milan, however, did not give in and appealed to the emperor Flavio Valentiniano: this is when Ambrogio had to accept.

As bishop, Ambrogio adopted an ascetic lifestyle, lavishing all possessions to the poor. Two major works have connoted the bishopric of Ambrogio, which lasted from 347 until his death.

The first is the construction of the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, dedicated to him. Recently renovated, the basilica hosts his remains and, in the square in front, there is a column known as the devil column.

It is an elegant column of Roman times that has two holes: according to legend, the column witnessed a fight between Ambrogio and the devil. The devil, trying to pierce the saint, ended up in the column: hence, the holes and the smell of sulfur that seems to come out from them.

Visiting the Basilica, today, is a unique experience: the driveway in front of the entrance has been recently renovated and can be fully appreciated by a relaxing stroll under the evergreens. As well as something material like the Basilica, Ambrogio gave to the city of Milan something more spiritual and eternal.

In fact, he changed the rite of the Milanese diocese enormously: from the classic Roman to the Ambrosian one, a ritual that took inspiration from the Eastern cultures and survived the rites unification wanted by Pope Gregory I.

The differences with the classical rite are related to the liturgical furnishings, the way to celebrate the Mass and the ritual songs of the Mass. Ambrogio, in fact, was known as the “most musical among the fathers” and his breakthrough soon spread in other churches.

Oh Bej! Oh Bej! Christmas Fair


oh bej oh bej

On December 7, 374 Ambrogio became bishop has since that, every year, the city of Milan celebrates the patron saint of Milan.

The people of Milan, believers or not, celebrate the Holy saint by staying at home from work. Some of them take part in the Mass in honor of the saint, held in the Basilica. Others go to the Oh Bej! Oh Bej! fair.

The fair is held every year in the area of the Castello Sforzesco and includes the presence of over 350 exhibitors crafting toys, confectioners and books: the Milanese roam around the stalls looking for the perfect Christmas gift. There are, also, vendors of roasted chestnuts and vinbrulé: a toast to the patron saint of Milan, in this case, is a must!

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