Most tourists travel around the world armed with a guide book and a selfie stick, in an attempt to capture every moment and remind themselves, once back to reality, of just how much fun they really had. But alas such dedicated sightseeing is often not enough to make the most of the city and discover its hidden history. Incredibly this is also true for people who actually live in Milan!
One example could be the great monastery of Saint Ambrose, now used by the Milan Catholic University.
We could begin this story in the V century, when the catholic Longobard queen Theodolinda had the idea of creating the most sacred jewel of all times, the Iron Crown, a golden diadem with precious stones, lined with a thin iron rod which according to tradition was wrought from one of the nails used during the crucifixion of Christ. Seen as a powerful sign of royalty, it was used to crown the lineage of Longobard kings, during a ceremony held in Sant’Ambrogio, considered to be the most sacred church of the kingdom.
The Basilica gradually gained importance, resulting in the need for a nearby large monastery, which was built by Benedictine monks, in 789, and soon ratified by Charlemagne himself.
While the monks were cultivating the land to feed the poor, the Charlemagne heirs started the tradition of their triple coronation. At first as king of Germany, then as king of Italy in Sant’Ambrogio using the Iron Crown, and finally in Rome to attain the Imperial dignity of the Sacred Roman Empire from the hands of the pope.
Sant’Ambrogio, of course, became extremely important and wealthy, since every king brought rich gifts and a large entourage, to the point that soon the monastery had to add an exclusive guesthouse for them. Milan also started to become one of the most important cities, this was highlighted in the XV century by its ability to cover the extortionate costs of the Duomo, even employing important artists, such as Leonardo and Bramante, whose talents were put to use for the Duke Ludovico il Moro and his brother the cardinal Ascanio Maria Sforza. Bramante obtained the commission to rebuild the monastery, and designed four magnificent cloisters. Unfortunately he left Milan but, following his design, two of the cloisters were then slowly completed in 1630.
After this peak, their luck changed. First the Spanish, then the Austrians invaded the region and made money by abolishing many religious orders to confiscate and sell their belongings.Then it was Napoleon’s turn, who from the very beginning showed his intentions.
On 26 May 1805, during his crowning as King of Italy, in the Duomo, the King of France took the Iron Crown from the Cardinal Archbishop’s hands, and placing it on his head, exclaimed: “Dieu me la donne, gare à qui la touche” (God gives it to me, beware whoever touches it).
Soon after, in 1810, he suppressed any kind of religious establishments, corporations, congregations, communities and church associations. The monks of Saint Ambrose were sent away, the monastery belongings confiscated, the building was used as a military hospital and baracks for soldiers and horses.
The military hospital continued to operate for more than a century, when a soldier called Edoardo Gemelli went there for one year of voluntary service as a physician and psychologist. Here he found his true vocation and decided to become a Franciscan friar, taking the name of Agostino. This tough man, in 1921, succeeded in buying the monastery to accomplish his dream of founding the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (The Catholic University of the Sacred Heart) a research university, working closely with the Policlinico Universitario Agostino Gemelli (Agostino Gemelli Teaching Hospital) a large general hospital in Rome with 1,850 beds collaborating with the medical school of the Università Cattolica.
Nowadays this University is organized into 12 faculties and 7 postgraduate schools, providing Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees both in Italian or English, specialized master and PhD programs. In addition, the University runs several double degree programs with other institutions throughout the world. It also offers exchange and study abroad programs for international students, with an internship program designed for them. For both Italians and foreigners there are extracurricular courses to study Arab, Chinese, Italian, Japanese and Russian.
Since the 1st September the Cattolica (as it is normally called) has enrolled 843 students from 83 different countries, 460 have chosen the Exchange or Study Abroad programs, while 102 preferred the 1st level master, and 281 have chosen undergraduate courses, master’s or single cycle. Employability, teaching, facilities and commitment have granted it five stars by QS Stars, a global university rating system.
Just as an example “Talenti per l’Eccellenza” (Talent for Luxury), held on last Tuesday 11th October. On this occasion many selected students from Higher Education Universities around the world had the opportunity to get in touch with the human resources directors of great Italian brands, such as Bulgari, Gucci, LVMH, who were there to help young people create their brilliant futures.
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
Largo Agostino Gemelli 1 • M2 Sant’Ambrogio
P.S. Mon-Fri 8.00-22.00, free admission to the cloisters, a super place for selfies!