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Oratory of San Protaso

Foto Oratory of San Protaso -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Oratory of San Protaso -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Oratory of San Protaso -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Oratory of San Protaso -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Oratory of San Protaso -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Oratory of San Protaso -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Oratory of San Protaso -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Oratory of San Protaso -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Oratory of San Protaso -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Oratory of San Protaso -  Churches / Religious buildings
Show an other treasure of art and history in Milan:
Milan - Churches / Religious buildings: Oratory of San ProtasoMostly represented styles: Romanesque - Baroque

The Oratory of San Protaso in Lorenteggio is the smallest church in Milan, but it is not for this reason less rich in history than many larger and more famous churches.
It was built in the first half of the eleventh century by the Benedictine monks, in an area in those days of open country, rich in water and inhabited for this reason already since pre-Roman times.
The oratory was originally part of the complex of the Benedictine monastery of San Protaso, built in the same period. This monastery was transformed in a simple farmhouse between the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries. In the 60s of the last century it was finally bought by the City of Milan and unfortunately torn down to make room for new residential buildings.
It seems that the troops of Friedrich Barbarossa, during the siege of Milan, had settled in the area of ​​the Monastery of San Protaso, because of the wealth of water in the area. A legend tells that the emperor wanted to tear down the church, in retaliation to the resistance of the city, but then, entering it to pray, he promised to spare it in case of victory over the Milanese. Unfortunately for Milan he had reason to keep his promise!
For this reason the Oratory of San Protaso is also called Small Church of Barbarossa.
At the end of the eighteenth century, in 1796, Napoleon Bonaparte arrived to Milan, coming from the battle of Lodi. He requisitioned the Monastery of San Protaso and used the oratory to deposit weapons and ammunition.
It was at that time that the long period of decadence of the oratory began, used first as a deposit of tools and as a barn and then as a shelter for homeless.
In the first half of the nineteenth century the small church became also a meeting place for the Carbonari, a group of nobles and citizens who conspired against the Austrian occupation, by virtue of the fact that the building was outside the city, but was connected to it by a long underground passage that led perhaps to the Pusterla di Sant'Ambrogio (a minor city gate), perhaps to the Basilica of San Vittore, perhaps even to the Sforza Castle. The access to the secret passage, a trapdoor in the apse, was then closed in the middle of the twentieth century.
For some time, in the second half of the nineteenth century, the church came back to be used as such, but in the '20s of the last century a new period of degradation began. Both in the '20s, and even more, in the 50s, the oratory risked being demolished, in both cases to widen the road.
Fortunately, starting from the 60s the process of recovery of the oratory began, which was at that time in a state of serious decay. But we must wait for 1986 to see finally radical recovery works able to enhance the small building as it deserves.
The oratory risked one last time to be demolished just a few years ago, with the beginning of the work for the undergound line 4. Fortunately, in the end it was possible to save it once again and make it obtain the architectural bond that in reality was still missing.

The Oratory of San Protaso at Lorenteggio consists of a single rectangular space in Lombard Romanesque style, with a semicircular apse at the bottom. Above the door there is an oculus. In addition there are three small single windows, two on the right side and one on the left side.
Externally it is still possible to recognize the traces of a larger rectangular window in the left wall, later walled up.
The roof is gabled and the ceiling is coffered.
During some of the first restoration works the floor was raised of approx. half a meter from the original level, and in fact you notice that the frescoes are in a lower position than you would expect.
The interior is decorated with frescoes from various epochs.

  • The oldest is the velarium in the lower part of the apse. The name derives from the fact that it wants to reproduce a drapery of fabric. Dating from the eleventh century, it also includes the representation of a lion and of plant elements. In some places some fragments of a fresco from a later period are superimposed on it.
  • On the left wall there is one of the oldest representations of Santa Caterina from Siena, recognizable by the black dress and the white veil (Fig. 5). It probably dates back to 1498.

  • On the left wall there is also the so-called Zavattari fresco (Fig. 6), of which unfortunately only a few fragments remain. On the left there is a Madonna in Throne and on the right a crucifixion.
    The evident similarities suggest an association with the double fresco on the counter-façade of the Ducal Chapel of the Church of San Cristoforo at the Naviglio. However, it is not clear whether there is a single author and which are the oldest frescoes from which the artist took the example for the others.
    It must then be emphasized that both this fresco and that of Santa Caterina are in fact torn frescoes placed in frames. They could also come from another church, or from the monastery that no longer exists today. It is not clear when they arrived in the church exactly.

  • The upper part of the apse wall is occupied by a Baroque fresco of 1620 commissioned by the Olivetan Monks who had taken over the management of the monastery. In it is represented the Madonna of Divine Help within a trompe l'oeil frame. The Virgin is depicted between San Vittore, on the left, and San Bernardo Tolomei, founder of the Olivetan Monks, on the right. Then there is also a kneeling nun, corresponding to Santa Francesca Romana.

  • On the right wall there is finally a sinopia of the Madonna of Divine Help

On the small recently built churchyard there is a municipal boundary stone from the border between the municipalities of Corpi Santi ("Holu Bodies", a circular municipality that surrounded Milan between 1782 and 1873) and Lorenteggio, both of which are now joined together in Milan.

Owned municipally, in 1987 the Oratory of San Protaso was loaned free use to ASCOLOREN (Merchants Association of Lorenteggio) with the aim of protecting it and allowing it to be opened to visitors. In recent years, a special cultural association has been added beside it, that of the Friends of the Church of San Protaso at Lorenteggio, formed by volunteers and which contributes to the enhancement of the church also by organizing cultural events of various kinds in it.

If you are interested in a guided tour of this monument send an email!

Categories: Churches / Religious buildings

Via Lorenteggio, 20146 Milano MI
Further pictures of the Oratory of San Protaso in the section Photography
Milano: Fresco of Saint Caterina from Siena in the Oratory of San Protaso
Milano: Apse of the Oratory of San Protaso
Milano: Central part of the wall of the apse of the Oratory of San Protaso