Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Tomb of St Peter Martyr in Milan's Portinari Chapel

Here are some great photos from our Ambrosian correspondent Nicola de’ Grandi of the Portinari Chapel at the Basilica of St Eustorgio in Milan. They were taken during a special night-time opening made possible by a new lighting system; as one might well imagine, the Italians are extraordinarily good at this sort of thing, and more and more museums throughout the country are now offering occasional visits in the evening or night. The chapel is famous as the place where the relics of St Peter Martyr are housed in a large medieval “ark”, which, as noted last year in a guest article by our friend Dr Donald Prudlo, was designed so that the faithful could pass under it to touch and kiss it.

The ark of St Peter Martyr was carved by Giovanni di Balduccio in 1339, but has only been in the Portinari Chapel since the 18ht century. The major panels on the front show St Peter’s funeral, his canonization, and a posthumous miracle by which he saves a ship in danger.
On the back, St Peter heals a mute, causes a cloud to cover the sun while he preaches outdoors, and heals a sick man and an epileptic.
This inscription records the praises of St Peter by his confrere St Thomas Aquinas. “When St Thomas Aquinas had visited the grave of St Peter as he was traveling to France in the year 1265, wondering at so great a martyr, he said ‘A herald, lantern, fighter for Christ, for the people and for the faith, here rests, here is covered, here lies, wickedly murdered. A sweet voice to the sheep, a most pleasing light of spirits, and sword of the Word, fell by the sword of the Cathars. Christ makes him marvelous, the devout people adore him, and the Faith which he kept by martyrdom adorns him as a Saint. But Christ makes this place new signs, and new light is given to the crowd, and the Faith spread (thereby) shines in this city.”
The dome and vaults of the chapel were painted by Vincenzo Foppa from 1464-68.
On the left, the miracle of the cloud; on the right, a very famous apparition in which the devil appeared to St Peter in the guise of Virgin, but is driven off when St Peter shows him a Eucharistic Host and tells the apparition, “If you are truly the Mother of God, then adore your Son!”
The Assumption
On the left, St Peter performs a miraculous healing at Narni; a young man who had kicked his own mother had then cut off his own foot in remorse, but St Peter reattaches it and heals him. On the right, the Saint’s martyrdom.
The Annunciation
From the sacristy, a rochet of St Charles Borromeo, left to the Basilica on the occasion of his entering the archdiocese of Milan to take possession of the See; the ritual traditionally began from the Basilica of St Eustorgio. (St Charles had been occupied with various duties in Rome, and was unable to leave and take possession of Milan for the first few years of his episcopacy.) Some believe, however, that it the rochet he was wearing when he was shot in the back by a member of a confraternity that he was in the process of suppressing; the shot burned his mozzetta and rochet, but left the Saint miraculously unharmed.
A reliquary of the Three Magi. Their major relics which are now in the cathedral of Cologne in Germany were kept for many centuries in the Basilica of St Eustorgio, until Milan was defeated in war by the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, and forced to surrender them to him.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: