7 December 2015

Feast of St Ambrose in Milan

Celebrating the life of a clever and fearless Bishop

The feast day of Milan’s patron saint, St Ambrose (Sant’Ambrogio), is celebrated in the city on this day every year.
A service is held in the Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio to mark the saint's day on December 7.
The Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio in Milan
Photo by Novellon (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The day is an official public holiday in Milan. Banks, Government offices and schools are closed along with some shops. Public transport may also be restricted.

A service is held in the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, the church built by Ambrose himself. The date also marks the opening of the traditional 'Oh Bej! Oh Bej!' street market, with stalls selling local food, wine and crafts.

Aurelius Ambrosius was born in the year 340. He trained as a lawyer and was a great orator before becoming Bishop of Milan in response to popular demand.

After his ordination he wrote about religion, composed hymns and music and was generous to the poor.

He stood up to the supporters of the alternative Arian religion, who wanted to take over some of Milan’s churches, and he also told a Roman Emperor what he had done wrong and how to atone for his sins.

A famous piece of advice that he gave to his congregation was to follow local liturgical custom rather than to argue against it. He said: “When I am at Rome I feast on a Saturday, when I am at Milan I do not.” This is believed to be the origin of the phrase: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

He died at the age of 57 in the year 397 and, after he was made a saint, his feast day was fixed to take place on the anniversary of his ordination each year.

Travel tip:

The Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio is in south west Milan in Piazza Sant’Ambrogio. It was originally built by Ambrose, when he was bishop, on the site of an earlier Christian burial ground. After his remains were placed there, the church was named after him. It was rebuilt in the 11th century and further modified in the 15th century.
The Bibliotheca Ambrosiana in Milan was one of the first libraries to be open to the public
Milan's Bibliotheca Ambrosiana

Travel tip:

The Pinacoteca Ambro- 
siano, named after St Ambrose, is an art gallery and cultural complex founded in the 17th century by Cardinal Federico Borromeo. Located in Piazza Pio, in the centre of Milan, the complex also houses the Bibliotheca Ambrosiana, one of the first libraries to be open to the public.


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