St. Mark's Church

Piazza San Marco, 2. (Open Map)


Located in the Brera district, one of Milan’s most beautiful urban settings, the church of San Marco (Saint Mark) was once reflected in the waters of the Navigli.
This church represented during all the late Middle Age until the Modern age the cradle of the Augustinians in Milan: it was therefore enriched with a lot of artworks related to Augustinian subjects.
According to tradition, the building was named in homage to Venice for the help it provided to the city of Milan during its struggle against Federico Barbarossa, but the first certain information dates back to 1254 when Lanfranco Settala, Prior General of Augustinian Hermits, ordered the construction of a three naves church incorporating the pre-existing buildings. The structure didn’t undergo any change until the 17th century, when it was transformed thanks to the fact that it became the mother house of the Augustinian order.
Saint Augustine was born in Thagaste, Numidia, now Algeria, and met in Milan several people that brought an essential change to his life. His friendship with Saint Ambrose, animated by a strong and charismatic personality, was crucial for Augustine’s personal changing. In Milan he heard several Ambrose’s sermons in the cathedral and through these words he found his way to the conversion to Christianity.
Augustine, as was recently said by Pope Benedict XVI, is the Church Father that has written the greatest number of works (books, letters and sermons). Some of these works are of fundamental importance not only for the history of Christianity, but also for the shaping of the Western culture. As others Church Fathers of the first centuries, but with even more force, Augustine has a strong and persistent influence on culture: a fact that is highlighted by the great number of manuscripts of his works that is available nowadays.
In the Basilica there are a lot of artworks that are inspired directly by Saint Augustine. On the walls of the right transept is a fresco by the Fiammenghinis (Giovan Battista and Mauro della Rovere), Alessandro IV istituisce l’ordine degli Agostiniani (Alexander IV Instituting the Order of the Augustinians). It represents the Pope that in 1256 delivers the Papal bull to the Order. In the lower part of the walls of the same transept in 1956, during restoring works, precious frescos were found: they have been attributed to the 14th-century Lombard master Giovannino de' Grassi. Not to be missed is the Crucifix surrounded by angels and saints and Saint Augustine, that dates back to 1365 – 1370.
In the presbytery is possible to admire two paintings: on the right the Dispute of Ambrose and Augustine by Camillo Procaccini (1555-1629) and on the left the Baptism of Augustine by Giovan Battista Crespi known as Cerano (1618).
Of its glorious past, the church stills preserves the bell tower and the imposing stone portal, which is topped by three statues depicting Saint Mark, Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine.
The right nave is lined with 16th-century frescos by Paolo Lomazzo that narrate the stories of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, as well as a nativity scene made of paper (by Londonio).
As a plaque points out , the church has been visited by several illustrious figures. Towards the end of the 18th century, an adolescent Mozart performed here and stayed in the manse for three months. In 1874, Giuseppe Verdi conducted his own Messa da Requiem, dedicated to Alessandro Manzoni.
Today, thanks to the extraordinary acoustics and valuable organ (admirably restored by the great Costanzo Antegnati), concerts are held here by the principal musical institutions of Milan.
Recently, some speleologists found a trap door that gave access through a tunnel to the space under the altar. The mystery remains unsolved: the underground passage collapsed before they could discover where it led.