While the exterior of the church is bland and uninteresting, it’s when you step inside that you can see why San Maurizio is sometimes known as the “Sistine Chapel” of Milan. It’s filled with many beautiful, colorful, and well-preserved 16th century frescoes mostly depicting Biblical scenes and stories.
Churches have long stood at this site, and construction of the current San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore began in 1503. It was built incorporating several ancient walls that date back to Roman times, and was constructed as a Benedictine convent for nuns. Today a large part of the complex houses the Archaeological Museum of Milan (a completely separate attraction and not discussed in this blog).
There are two parts to the church. When you enter, you see the main chapel and its altar, with several smaller side-chapels. It’s all beautifully decorated, as you can see from these photos, with dozens of saints and biblical scenes. The art around the altar, for example, was crafted by Renaissance painter (and friend to Leonardo da Vinci), Bernardino Luini and his three sons.
The church is divided into two by a central wall. Milan’s citizens would sit near the entrance in the main chapel, and the back part was exclusively for the nuns (and known as the Hall of the Nuns).
During Renaissance times, nuns were not allowed to enter the main chapel during services. Instead, they listened behind a screen hidden from the public eye. This practice of keeping the nuns isolated continued until the late 18th century.
Nuns not only listened to the masses but also provided the music during the church services, and the Hall of the Nuns reflects this, with choir stalls and an old organ dating from 1554 (which still works despite its age).
When you enter the Nun’s Hall, you enter a different world of incredible beauty. The architecture and art are simply delightful!
Today concerts are occasionally held in the Nun’s Hall.
Admission to the church is free and it is open Tue-Sun 9.30am-5.30pm, closed on Monday. Well worth taking the effort to find it and visit.
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