The Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio and the Portinari Chapel in Milan


The Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio is the most iconic building in the Ticinese neighbourhood, not only for its quintessentially Lombard beauty, but also for its ancient legacy, for its collection of masterpieces and for a tradition that is kept alive.


Not even the experts can agree on when exactly it was built, but research would point to late antiquity, which makes it one of the famous old early-Christian basilicas in Milan built after the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D. when the city was the capital of the Western Roman Empire.



The origins and the history of the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio in the Ticinese area


Its ancient origins are evidenced by a late-imperial necropolis, now open to visitors and only discovered in the basement of the church between 1959 and 1962. It also has traces of an early-Christian cemetery, confirming that the basilica was erected on a sprawling burial site outside the ancient Roman and Medieval walls of the city.

The basilica was extended over the centuries and enhanced with frescoed chapels and art treasures. It was then handed over to the Dominican Order in the thirteenth century, soon becoming a landmark building for Milan also thanks to the presence of the remains of the Three Wise Men, attested by the original name of the Basilica, Trium Magorum. Sharp-eyed observers will notice an eight-pointed star, symbolising the three Kings, on the tip of the bell tower built between 1297 and 1309. Soaring to a height of 73 metres, it is the tallest in the city. The veneration of these relics (stolen by Frederick Barbarossa in the thirteenth century and only partially returned in 1903) gave rise to the procession of the Magi (Corteo dei Magi), one of the most ancient traditions in Milan which has taken place on the 6th of January in celebration of Epiphany since 1336.



However, the importance of Sant’Eustorgio for the whole city of Milan also stemmed from the sermons of the Dominican friars, evidenced by a small marble pulpit on the left-hand side of the façade. Carved in 1597, it was a replacement for the original one which, according to tradition, was used by Saint Peter Martyr or Saint Peter of Verona during the thirteenth century when he preached.

The close bond between the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio and this Dominican friar and Catholic martyr is testified to by the fact that his remains still lie here today inside the highly acclaimed Ark of Saint Peter Martyr, an extraordinary Gothic sculpture in Carrara marble crafted by Giovanni di Balduccio between 1336 and 1339.



The Portinari Chapel in the Ticinese neighbourhood of Milan


Later on, the Ark was moved into the spectacular Portinari Chapel, a superb masterpiece of Lombard architecture and Renaissance painting frescoed by Vincenzo Foppa between 1462 and 1468. Funnily enough, it was not commissioned by someone from Milan, but by Pigello Portinari, a Florentine director of the Medici Bank in Milan. He had the chapel built as a burial place for himself, being deeply devoted to Saint Peter Martyr, whose remains had already been laid to rest in the church.




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