Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Basilica of the Virgin Mary “at St Celsus” in Milan

On the Ambrosian calendar (both EF and OF) and on the Roman calendar of the Extraordinary Form, today is the feast of the martyrs Nazarius and Celsus; in the Roman Rite, they are celebrated liturgically togther with two Popes, Victor I and Innocent I. Nazarius is said to have been a Roman who in the very earliest years of Christianity preached the Faith in northern Italy, and to have been beheaded at Milan in the reign of the Emperor Nero, together with a boy named Celsus who accompanied him on his missionary journeys. Their burial place was discovered in a small woods by St Ambrose not long before he died in 397, and that of St Nazarius, whose blood was as fresh as if it had just been shed, was conveyed to a church originally dedicated to the Apostles. At the same time, a small church was built in the place of the discovery, and St Celsus was buried there. Beginning in the late 15th century, a much larger church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was built next to it, and in 1935, the Bl. Ildephonse Schuster had the Saint’s relics transferred there. (Photos by Nicola de’ Grandi; some historical images of the church, and pictures of some relics of the Bl. Ildephonse Schuster, are included below.)
The relics of St Celsus.
The relics were for many centuries kept in this sarcophagus, made sometime between the end of the 3rd and mid-4th century. On the left is one of the earliest know depictions of the Birth of Christ with the ox and the ass; the three kings are shown traveling not towards the infant Christ, but rather to the Christ in majesty of the Traditio Legis in the center. On the right are the three Marys at the tomb, and Christ’s appearance to St Thomas. (On the sides, not seen here, are Moses making water run from the rock, and the healing of the woman with the issue of blood.)
The church of St Celsus, originally built in the 4th century, but completely rebuilt in the 11th; the front of it was then partly demolished at the end of 18th century, and this neo-Romanesque façade added in the 19th. The church is only occasionally open...
and the interior is extremely austere.
Next door, however, is the very splendid basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary, built to house a miraculous image of Her (shown below), a project which was begun in the late 15th century, and completed at the end of the 16th. Here we see the church of St Celsus on the right, the cupola of the Marian church (1498), its façade (designed by Galeazzo Alessi, modified and constructed by Martino Bassi, 1572), and the portico in front of it by Cristoforo Solari (begun in 1505).
A closer view of the façade.
The apse and the dodecagonal tambur of the cupola, designed by Gian Giacomo Dolcebuono and Giovanni Battagio in 1493.
The late Renaissance interior by Galeazzo Alessi; note the rood beam. The altar seen in the next picture is under the red canopy sticking out of the pillar on the left.
The altar of the Virgin Mary, added by Martino Bassi in 1584-88, who began the work at the very end of the episcopacy of St Charles Borromeo. The miraculous image of the Virgin which gave rise to the basilica is underneath the altar.
Although it has been much repainted, this image of the Virgin and Child is on a wall of the original church of St Celsus, which dates back to the time of St Ambrose. In the year 1430, Filippo Maria Visconti, the duke of Milan, ordered the construction of a larger church on the site, capable of holding a congregation of about 300 people. On December 30, 1485, the figure of the Virgin was seen to move, first by lifting up the veil that covered the image, then stretching out Her arms and uniting Her hands, while the Child Jesus blessed the faithful. Testimonies to this effect by numerous eyewitness are still kept in the church’s archives. The veil moved by the Virgin still exists; new brides in Milan are traditionally blessed with it, and leave their bridal bouquets at this altar.
On the left, the altar of the Virgin; then the main altar, and the altar with the relics of St Celsus, moved into its current location in the post-Conciliar period.
The high altar, made of black Belgian marble inlaid with precious stones and partly covered in giled bronze, was completed in 1827 by Carlo Garavaglia; the circular baldachin by Luigi Canonica contains a statue of the Redeemer by Camillo Pacetti. Also note the very nice credence on the left side of the sanctuary.
The seats for the major ministers at solemn Mass, seen from the back; the credence above was made later to match it.
The nave seen from closer to the main sanctuary.
The ambulatory and side-chapels.
The basilica’s processional bell.
A fresco of the Virgin and Child with Ss Nazarius in Celsus. On July 13, 1620, the Virgin was seen to move Her eyes and shed severl tears, a harbinger of a new outbreak of the plague, whence the image’s nickname “the Madonna of the Tears.” This event was also attested by numerous eyewitnesses; the church of Milan just celebrated the 4th centenary of this event 2 weeks ago.
This cross was carried by St Charles during one of the many penitential processions held in Milan in 1576 in response to an outbreak of plague.
Relics of the Bl. Ildephonse Schuster.
The embroidery on this rochet depicts stories from the life of St Gregory the Great, a gift to Schuster from Pope Pius XI on the occasion of his episcopal consecration.
A painting of the church’s interior by G. Migliara, 1820
Another by Luigi Bisi, 1838
Photograph from the 1950s or early 1960s. 

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