The Bone Chapel where a Duke was murdered

The Santuario di San Bernardino is not only where a creepy ossuary is located, it’s also where a very unpopular Italian Duke was assassinated.

Santuario di San Bernardino alle Ossa origin story

In 417 CE, a church was built where the current chapel stands, but a fire destroyed it in 1070. A new church was built in 1075. A hospital, Ospedale del Brolo, was built nearby in the 13th century. Bodies from people who died at the hospital soon filled up the local graveyard and so a chamber connected to the church was built in 1210.

The bones of these poor souls, along with those of the monks who worked in the hospital as well as remains from inmates of the local prison are arranged in various patterns on the wall or just displayed behind some bars of steel in this Ossuary attached to the church. Legend has it that some of the bones are from Christian martyrs, but there is no evidence of that being the case. On the ceiling of the ossuary are interesting frescoes from the late 17th century.

Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza

Galeazzo Sforza, by Piero BenciUffizi Gallery

In 1476, three high ranking Milanese men plotted to kill Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza. They were upset with the Duke for various transgressions including taking the virginity of one of the men’s sisters.

But, that wasn’t all of the Duke’s crimes. He was known to have raped several men and women. And, after completing the vile act, he was known to hand the victims to his Favorites for more violation.

Once, when an astrologer predicted the date of Sforza’s death, the Duke had him walled up and waited for him to starve. Another time, the Duke found a farmer had broken the law against rabbit hunting. He made the farmer swallow the rabbit whole which suffocated the man. Needless to say, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, was widely despised.

The murderous plot was carried out on in the Santuario di San Bernardino alle Ossa on December 26th, 1476, the feast day of St. Stephen. One of the men bowed before Sforza, rose suddenly, and repeatedly stabbed him. The others joined in and the Duke was killed.

Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza was so hated in Milan that his corpse was taken by a mob and dragged through the streets while people kicked at it. The Duke’s body (now a beheaded corpse) was hung upside down outside one of the conspirator’s homes.

Two of the assassins were apprehended and executed. The third was killed by a guard in the church during the chaos after the murder.

Visiting Santuario di San Bernardino

Unsurprisingly, there is no mention of the Duke in the Santuario di San Bernardino. However, the Ossuary is open to visitors who want to see the chapel decorated with the bones of former citizens of Milan. The bone chapel is closed on Sundays.

About the Author

Brent Petersen is the Editor-in-Chief of Destination Eat Drink. He currently resides in Setubal, Portugal. Brent has written the novel “Truffle Hunt” (Eckhartz Press) and the short story collection “That Bird.” He’s also written dozens of foodie travel guides to cities around the world on Destination Eat Drink, including in-depth eating and drinking guides to the Cinque Terre, Amalfi Coast, Naples, Palermo, Turin, and Ortigia in Italy. Brent’s podcast, also called Destination Eat Drink, is available on all major podcasting platforms and is distributed by the Radio Misfits Podcast Network.

Author: Brent