The Milanese’s Guide to Santa Maria delle Grazie (and The Last Supper)

Where: Via Giuseppe Antonio Sassi, 3 20123 Milano

Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 7.00 – 12.55 and 15.00 – 19.30,  Weekends: 7.30 – 12.30 and 15.30 – 21.00 (keep in mind that you can’t visit the church during religious ceremonies – 18.30 to 19)

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The Church   

Santa Marie Delle Grazie is one of our favorite places in Milan… history, spirituality, and the smell of incense. If you need a place to recollect your thoughts this is where to go. This church to be in our absolute to-do list when in Milan – and it should be on yours too!  Santa Maria Delle Grazie isn’t just any church; it’s a Dominican Convent, home to the Last Supper, one of the world’s most celebrated masterpieces, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The Sanctuary is also the home of sixteen Friars, of which the oldest is 90 and the youngest 30 years old. 

So, have a read to find out what to see and plan when visiting the church and its beautiful premises…

The History

The Monastery was completed in 1469 and the church in 1482. In 1980 Santa Maria Delle Grazie was included in the World Heritage List as one of the top exponents of Renaissance style. In fact during the  Renaissance period; Northern Italy saw an explosion of culture thanks to the Sforza government. Critics are divided on who built the church apse as Donato Bramante’s name is inscribed in the marble vaults; however, there are strong similarities between the church and Amadeo’s design for Santa Maria la Fontana. In 1497, Ludovico il Moro made Santa Maria Delle Grazie the burial site for members of the Sforza family and his wife, Beatrice d’Este was later buried in the church. Since it has been built the church has undergone four restorations, taking place in 1908, 1924, 1953 and 1977. During the Second World War, the church was bombarded and the refectory hosting The Last Supper was partially destroyed, only the Wall housing the painting remained unharmed – some might even call it a miracle…

The Architecture

The church presents a combination of Renaissance and late Gothic architectural styles. The church is a rectangular shape with three aisles and seven square chapels on its side. The aisles and central nave are examples of Gothic architecture (see the picture below) which feature pointed arches and frescoes. To note is the altarpiece (sixth chapel on the left) depicting the Holy Family with St Catherine by Bordone.

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The monastery is organised around three courtyards, we recommend to access one of the courtyards through Via Caradosso. It is honesty breathtaking, especially in the spring – when pink flowers and green grass perfectly blend in with the white pillars and Bramante’s dome. It’s the perfect place to sit and read, or just meditate….

The Last Supper

If you know Santa Maria Delle Grazie, it’s likely you know it as The Last Supper’s home. This masterpiece was commissioned in 1495 and completed in 1947. The beautiful painting showcases the ingenious use of light and perspective. The representation depicted the moment after Jesus said: “One of you will betray me”.

downloadThe particularity of this painting is, however, Leonardo’s refusal of the usual interpretation of the composition. Instead, he placed Christ in the middle of the apostles who reacted in different ways.

If you look at the painting carefully you will also notice the outline of a door at the bottom of the table: this is because the monks cut a doorway (to have easier access to the rest of the convent) into the wall  on which Da Vinci’s fresco was painted and wiped out the feet of Christ .

Another fact many do not know, however, it that the Last Supper is not Da Vinci’s only opera in the church. The lunette located in the portico depicting Mary accompanied by Ludovico and his wife was also made by Da Vinci.

Il Chiostro Delle Rane

This is truly a real insiders tip: few are aware that one of the treasures of the church is the Chiostro Delle Rane (Cloister of the Frogs). You can find this by facing the altar and looking to your left, if you walk out of the small door you will find yourself in the cloister. This area was designed and built by Bramante and takes its name from the central fountain which is adorned with four frogs. This is an ideal place for when you need some solitude.

Cappella della Vergine delle Grazie

The seventh chapel to the left already existed when the Count Vimercati donated the ground to the monks, however no one knows precisely (not even the prefector) to when it dates. It is now considered to be a sanctuary and people from all over the world migrate just to pray to the Virgin Mary. In this chapel every breath you take feels like the first, we don’t really know how to describe the atmosphere, but we do know that it really is something special. 

Tickets

To visit the Dominican courtyards and some of the areas of Santa Maria Delle Grazie, you do not need tickets. However, the ‘Cenacolo’ (The Last Supper) next door is the thing to do and you must buy the tickets for it in advance if you want to get a place as they only allow 25 entrees at the time.

So let us know what you think after you’ve had a visit and don’t forget to tag us in your posts with #themilanese !

With Love,

The Milanese.

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