Milan’s Bone Church

San Bernardino alle Ossa is a creepy church in Milan decorated with human skulls. However this Italian bone church has an interesting history. While basing yourself in Milan at Baglioni Hotel Carlton, a city “salotto” sumptuously decorated with authentic antique furniture, marble mosaics and stylish drapes, you can heard rumors of a strange Catholic church hidden away in the center of the city, completely decorated with human remains.

It’s called San Bernardino alle Ossa, aka “The Bone Church”. La Chiesa San Bernardino alle Ossa or the Church of St. Bernardino of the Bones, is just a couple minutes’ walk from the Milan Duomo in a relatively unassuming-looking church (especially compared to the ornamentation on the Duomo), and the entrance is even on the side that faces a quiet piazza rather than the big street on the other side. Apparently back in the 13th century a local cemetery found itself running out of room. Fresh bodies from the nearby hospital were piling up, with nowhere to bury them. So officials began to dig up old skeletons, moving them from the cemetery to a small chamber. Eventually a church was built next to the bone room, probably because they felt a bit guilty.

Today San Bernardino alle Ossa has a small side chapel filled with hundreds of these human skulls and other bones from the middle ages. When you walk through the front door, look right and you’ll see an altar between two doors. The left door leads down a long & dark hallway to the bone room. It’s small, but with a high vaulted ceiling painted with beautiful frescos by the artist Sebastiano Ricci.

The walls are slightly morbid though. Human skulls & femurs are stacked up behind wire mesh to form crosses. They’re attached to pillars and doors in all sorts of different designs & patterns, completely covering the room. Most of the human remains here are from the overflowing cemetery or hospital patients that didn’t make it (a frequent occurrence in the Middle Ages), however there is a special case over the back doors full of skulls from criminals who were beheaded for their crimes.

Above the center altar, a statue of the Virgin Mary (or Queen of Heaven) stands encased in glass, surrounded by bones. Located only a short walk away from Milan’s famous Duomo Cathedral, the San Bernardino ossuary is a fascinating place and well worth a visit if you’re traveling in the city.

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