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Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia

Foto Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia -  Churches / Religious buildings
Foto Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia -  Churches / Religious buildings
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Milan - Churches / Religious buildings: Church of Sant'Alessandro in ZebediaMostly represented styles: Baroque - Rococò

The Church of Sant Alessandro in Zebedia is located in a central square behind Piazza Missori, but in the middle of side streets, so it is easy to miss.

Its construction, on a project of the Barnabite Lorenzo Binago, began in 1602, with the laying of the first stone by the archbishop Federico Borromeo. The Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia was erected together with the adjacent convent and college of the Banabites. It took the place of two smaller older buildings, the pre-existent church of Sant'Alessandro (probably placed at a part of the current choir, as would also indicate the fact that a fragment of a fifteenth-century fresco of the ancient church was incorporated into the choir of the new church, walled over the left door of the choir) and the oratory of San Pancrazio, in an area that in the past had been occupied by the Roman prisons known as Zebedia and where, according to tradition, the martyr Alexander had been imprisoned.
By 1630 much of the complex was finished and the church was therefore opened for worship in that year (although the upper part of the façade and the choir were still missing, and although a provisional roof had been laid in place of the first dome, collapsed in 1626).
In 1629 Binago had meanwhile died, replaced by Francesco Maria Richino, who in turn was replaced in 1658 for two years by his son. It was then Giuseppe Quadrio who took over the work. To him we owe the crypt and the new dome, built only in 1693, after a consolidation of the foundations. Finally, in 1704, the Barnabite Marcello Zucca took over, creating the discussed upper order of the façade, the left bell tower (practically a copy of the right one) and finally, in 1717, the staircase in front of the church.
In 1798 the conduction of the college was taken from the Barnabites and in 1810 that of the parish church. However, they could return in 1823.
It is noteworthy that the original project of Binago differed in many important details from what was actually realized. In particular, the façade had to be higher, with the upper part narrower and connected to the lower one by lateral volutes and surmounted by a broad tympanum, that is very similar to the facade of the Church of Jesus in Rome.

The plan of the Church of Sant'Alessandro is peculiar. If we consider only the main body, it is in fact a central plant. If we consider all its spaces visible to the public, then it is an inverted Latin cross, with the long arm of the vertical part of the cross represented by the half of the central nave that leads to the presbytery and the presbytery itself (plus the choir). The naves are therefore three, one main and two secondary. At the center there is the central span, significantly wider than the others and bordered by four large pillars supporting the large main dome, placed on a high drum.
On each side there are three chapels (with the central ones of greater dimensions). In addition there are two further chapels at the end of the side aisles, on the two sides of the presbytery. Through them it is possible to access the sacristy and the oratory of the immaculate (winter chapel), placed respectively on the right and on the left of the presbytery. In addition to the central dome there are also seven secondary domes: one above the presbytery, four at the four corners of the main body and two above the chapels at the end of the side aisles.
The presence of so many domes and, above all, of the four central pillars and of the great organ in front of the second chapel on the right (the second organ of the church, the first is the one in the counter-façade), that break the view, makes it difficult to correctly perceive the real dimensions of the spaces by the visitor, already distracted by the profusion of pictorial decorations and not helped by the little internal brightness of the building. In this way the church almost becomes a labyrinth of colors that looks larger than it really is.

The façade has two stylistically different orders. On the one hand the lower, more ancient one, completed as early as 1623, and characterized by solemn and severe lines. On the other hand the upper one, built in the first decade of the eighteenth century based on the design of the Barnabite Marcello Zucca and an example of the first Milanese rococo. It is characterized by curved shapes and lines. The subdivision of the lower part is resumed, but it is interpreted in a very free way.
Unfortunately, nineteenth-century interventions have severely disfigured the upper part of the façade.
While the lower one is intact and there are still the two statues of the Saints Paul and Peter on the sides of the entrance, as well as the relief above the central door with the vision of Saint Alexander of the future church, the great statues of Faith and of Hope, originally placed on the sides of the balcony, and that of Saint Alexander at the apex are now lost. However, there are still seven statues of angels of smaller dimensions.
The façade is flanked on either side by two symmetrical bell towers, practically identical but, as mentioned, built in different periods (the right one is from 1643, the one on the left, of the first decade of the eighteenth century).

The interiors of the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia are rich in decorations in baroque and rococo style, the result of an authentic competition between private individuals and families to add the greatest contribution to the embellishment of the church. Practically all internal surfaces are occupied by frescoes, stuccos, gildings and bas-reliefs. The layout and content of the pictorial decorations, however, reflects an overall design based on the book The pen interpreter of thought of the barnabite erudite Demetrio Suppensi.
The decorative apparatus of the church can therefore be divided into the choir, the presbytery and naves areas. The decoration of these parts took place in the period 1683-1699, by important Lombard painters of that period. In addition there are also the various chapels, the sacristy and the various furnishings.

The large choir, with a semicircular plant and with walls divided by large Ionic-Corinthian pilasters, is dedicated to the theme of the martyrdom of Saint Alexander. On the walls there are therefore depicted episodes of the life of the saint more directly related to his martyrdom. Each scene is represented inside a rich painted frame that simulates three-dimensionality. Note that the colors are rather dull and little contrasted. This means, together with the reduced lighting of the apse, that the frescoes require careful observation, to be appreciated.
Even less recognizable (in practice unrecognizable, if not in photos or using binoculars) are the decorations, no less rich, of the upper part, separated from the lower part by a large frame. In the lunettes there are windows with representations of heroes of the Old Testament on the sides. Each sail then cointains trompe-l'œil type representations, while the ribs are decorated with angels that support allegorical representations of the various arts. At the point of conjunction of the ribs a round with the allegory of faith. On the (small) vault of the choir, finally, a glory of angels.
The decoration of the apse was built between 1683 and 1686 by a team comprising Filippo Abbiati, Federico Bianchi, Giovanni Battista Grandi and others.

The presbytery is instead dedicated to the life of St. Alexander, with episodes of his life. Six canvases (made by Agostino Santagostini in 1695) are dedicated to them, two larger ones on the walls on the sides of the altar, inside rich frescoed cornices, and four smaller ones, next to them.
The glory of St. Alexander is depicted on the dome. Then there are the various minor decorations, such as the biblical heroes in the sides of the windows, the allegories of the virtues on the lower faces of the four arches that surround the dome, etc...
Also in the case of the decoration of the presbytery the Abbiati-Bianchi-Grandi team played an important role.

The large central dome completes the decorative cycle linked to Sant'Alessandro through an allegory of paradise represented in the calotte. The representation proceeds by concentric circles, with the light of the lantern to symbolize the divine unity. Proceeding outwards then follow the Father and the Son, united by the light of the Holy Spirit, Mary and the relatives of Christ, the apostles, popes and bishops and, finally, princes passed to religious life. All this enriched by many angels.
The decoration with characters distributed on concentric circles recalls the dome of the Sanctuary of the Beata Vergine dei Miracoli in Saronno and the apsidal basin of the Foppa Chapel in the Basilica of San Marco in Milan . But here the colors are decidedly duller. Perhaps to underline the more historical than theological setting of the distribution of the characters?
The decoration of the dome (Fig. 5) is completed by that on the plumes (allegories of four virtues surrounded by angels), of the drum (four episodes of the New and of the Old Testament) and of the lower side of the arches.
In the case of the decoration of the dome the general project is of the already named Abbiati and Bianchi. However, various other aristists took part in the realization.
Then there are the remaining parts of the ceiling. In particular, the decorations of the secondary domes and of the four main vaults around the main dome are dedicated to various characters grouped by category: the southern arch of the patriarchs, the western arch of the church doctors, the dome of the penitent saints, the dome of the virgins, etc...

No less surprising than the pictorial decoration are the furnishings of the church, in particular the main altar, the confessionals, the pulpit and the choir stalls.

The main altar was erected only in 1741, designed by Giovanni Battista Riccardi and adorned with numerous large semiprecious stones and rare marbles, a gift from the barnabite P. Francesco Modrone coming from the missions of Burma and of southern Vietnam.
It is placed at the center of the presbytery, surrounded by a splendid scagliola paving with the coat of arms of the barnabite order at the front corners.
The altar is incredibly rich in decorations and precious details. Worthy of note is the central bronze frontal, depicting Santa Grata that buries Sant'Alessandro, and the two small inlaid marble landscapes set on the sides of the table. In 1887 the altar underwent a neo-baroque intervention that partly distorted its original style (although the final result is still of the highest level).
The pulpit, near the north-east pillar, is also notable. It includes the bulging column base, the body equipped with candlesticks, the backdrop and the roof. All made with polychrome marbles and semiprecious stones in large quantities. Many details are no longer original, but overall the baroque structure has been preserved.

We must also mention the confessionals, in particular the two facing the presbytery. The confessionals, inserted in wall niches, are divided into two groups: on one side the wooden ones, more recent (from the end of the seventeenth century) and more ordinary, though obviously also of great value. On the other hand, the two facing the presbytery, older (presumably made around 1630), made of marble and semiprecious stones, quite different from the others and characterized by the combination of gemetrical severity and decorative fantasy. Of these it turns out that the one on the right is the original one, while the one on the left is a later copy that does not reach the same level of the model.
Very close to the most recent wooden confessional is the walnut choir, completed in 1682. In it the various seats are separated by spiral columns, while the backrests are decorated with geometric-floral motifs.

The chapels
All chapels are extremely decorated and it is therefore impossible to describe them in detail. While the marble balustrades in front of them are original, the gates that close them were only added in the nineteenth century.

  • Baptistery: It is obtained from an internal niche in correspondence, on the outer side, of the niche that houses the statue of St. Peter. In contrast to the other chapels, perfectly symmetrical on both sides, it is placed in an asymmetric position. It is decorated with rococo-style trompe-l'œil frescoes made in 1695 depicting episodes of the Old and of the New Testaments related to the theme of baptism.

  • First chapel on the left (Chapel of the Crucifix): It was finished in the original version by 1623. It contains seventeenth-century elements (the balustrade, the altar with the altarpiece and statues, the stucco frames). Of the second half of the eighteenth century is instead the pictorial cycle Stories of Christ, realized by Federico Ferreri and including representations on the walls, on the vault, on the lunette and on the inside face of the access arch.
    The altarpiece is attributed to Camillo Procaccini. On the sides of it there are two statues of angels with the instruments of passion.

  • Second chapel on the left: It is part of the pair of central chapels, larger than the others. Currently dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, previously the dedication was to Our Lady of Loreto and then to Our Lady of Divine Providence. The altar is impressive and complex, built in marbles of different colors, with wooden and bronze grafts. In two niches there are the statues of David (on the left) and Solomon (on the right). There are also several frescoes depicting the transport of the holy house of Mary from Palestine to Rijeka. On the walls there are four paintings dedicated to episodes of Mary's daily life. The authors of the pictorial decorations are not known with certainty.

  • Third chapel on the left: It is dedicated to St. John the Baptist and was inaugurated in 1618, thanks to the patronage of the Sacchi family. Relatively sober, it houses an altar dominated by a tympanum with a head of seraphim and by the altarpiece with subject Beheading of John the Baptist, traditionally attributed to Daniele Crespi. Next to it there are statues of the prophet Elia and of John the Evangelist, one the prefigurator and the other a homonym of the dedicatee. The two canvases on the side walls are copies made in 1622 by Francesco Belloni of two frescoes by Gaudenzio Ferrari in the Church of San Cristoforo in Vercelli.

  • Fourth chapel on the left: The two chapels at the end of the side aisles differ from the others in that they extend up to the presbytery. This means that they are longer than they are wide and that the entrance is on one side so to speak. Moreover, they are both passageways, since through them one can access the Chapel of the Immaculate (chapel on the left) and the sacristy (chapel on the right).
    Originally the chapel was dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament and to San Carlo. In 1850 the dedication passed to the barnabite bishop Sant'Alessandro Sauli. Concurrently with the change of dedication, the pictorial decoration was completely redone. Overall, however, it is not at all out of tune with the baroque decorations of the rest of the church (you only notice that the colors used are brighter and more intense) and only by looking at the frescoes more carefully the stylistic differences become evident. The frescoes depict episodes and characters related to the life of the saint. In particular, on the left wall of the second span is represented the saint who humbly kneels before the passage of San Carlo.
    The altar is dominated by the altarpiece of Cherubino Cornienti depicting a Virgin with child together with saints Paul, Carlo Borromeo, and Alessandro Sauli.

  • First chapel on the right: It is dedicated to San Pancrazio and probably is located where originally the San Pancrazio oratory stood. Above the scagliola altar there is a large altarpiece by Giovanni Battista Orsona, a pupil of Camillo Procaccini, depicting the martyrdom of San Pancrazio. On the side walls two beautiful paintings by Carlo Cornara, also dedicated to San Pancrazio.
    While these elements are from the mid-seventeenth century, the trompe-l'œil monochrome background of the altar and the frescoes on the vault are from the second half of the eighteenth century.

  • Second chapel on the right: It is dedicated to St. Joseph and was completed only in 1688. It is symmetrical with respect to the second on the left, not only in size but also in the general structure. The large double-sided altar in multicolored marbles houses an altarpiece from 1677 by Agostino Santagostino with the theme Appearance of the Divine Trinity to the human one, ie the apparition of the Trinity to Jesus embracing Saint John in the presence of Mary, Joseph and Anna in a glory of angels. On the sides of it two statues: the allegory of the Love of God on the right, and that of the Fear of God on the left. In the chapel there are also representations that recall to St. Joseph in a historical or symbolic sense.

  • Third chapel on the right: Completed in 1669 and dedicated to the Assumed Virgin, it was erected under the patronage of the Cittadini family.
    The altar, in mixed marbles, presents in the arched tympanum the usual head of a cherub. The altarpiece is by Camillo Procaccini and depicts the Assumption of Mary. It is characterized by the division into two scenes, made evident by the different proportions used. Superiorly the Virgin surrounded by angels, inferiorly, represented on a much smaller scale, the apostles at the sepulcher.
    Note the correspondence between the monocrom sibyls on the entrance arch (starting from the Renaissance the sibyls were presented as pagan prophets of Christ) and the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel on the lunette. On the lateral paintings and in the frescoes are then represented Biblical heroines as forerunners of the Virgin. The cycle is attributed to Agostino and Giacinto Santagostino.

  • Fourth chapel on the right: It is dedicated to the Nativity (after having been dedicated to the Sacred Heart for a while). Its structure is symmetrical to that of the fourth chapel on the left, but in this case crossing the chapel you reach the sacristy.
    The chapel was inaugurated in 1613.
    The sumptuous altar is dominated by the beautiful altarpiece by Camillo Procaccini Adoration of the shepherds, from 1615. On the sides there are the statues of the evangelists Matteo (right) and John (left). On the wall to the left of the altar there is a fresco by Ercole Procaccini the Younger with subject Adoration of the Magi. The resemblance to the frescoes by the same author in the Church of Saints Peter and Paul at the three Ronchetti is evident.
    The dome is populated by angels, while in the plumes there are four sibyls. The chapel also houses frescoes by Moncalvo and Fiamminghini.

Oratory of the Immaculate or Winter Chapel
On the left of the presbytery. It is accessed through the fourth chapel on the left.
It consists of a rectangular elongated hall with an eighteenth-century altar in polychrome marble on a trompe-l'œil background. The latter also includes the representation, on the sides within painted niches, of two statues of Asafa (on the left) and Salomon (on the right). Both hold scrolls containing Old Testament verses read as Marian prefigurations.
The altarpiece is dedicated to the Immaculate Virgin, depicted while assisting the Child Jesus in the act of piercing a dragon with a cross-spear.
At the center of the ceiling, then, a Coronation of the Virgin of the eighteenth century.

The segristy has long been the only part already open to worship during the construction of the church. As a result it is very rich and structured itself like a small church, with a rectangular hall and a square presbytery at the back.
The upper part is decorated with frescoes, while the lower part is occupied by carved wooden cabinets of the late seventeenth century, in style with the choir stalls and the wooden confessionals. They are characterized by the balance between the decorative richness and the geometric rigor of the structures.
The pictorial decorations on the walls have as their subject the childhood of Jesus, with the representation of the episodes that characterized the first phase of his life. To completion the great Adoration of the Magi on the counter-façade.
The lunettes are instead dedicated to characters and episodes of the Old Testament.
The high and narrow presbytery is dominated by the altar with a large altarpiece by Bernardino Campi placed within a richly decorated frame. It shows the Assumption of Mary with the Sacrifice of Isaac on the wall of the sepulcher of Mary. Curiously, there is a clock in the lunette.
The pictorial decorations of the sacristy are the work of various artists: Moncalvo, Fiamminighini, Daniele Crespi and others.

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

Categories: Churches / Religious buildings

Piazza Sant Alessandro, 1 - 20123 Milano
Further pictures of the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia in the section Photography
Milano: Looking up from behind the altar of the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Dome of the presbytery of the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Scagliola floor of the presbytery of the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Central dome of the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows in the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Crucifixion by Camillo Procaccini in the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Adoration of the Magi in the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Stone confessional in the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Presbytery the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Facade of the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Frescoed calotte of the central dome of the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Chapel of Sant'Alessandro Sauli in the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Main altar of the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Walls and ceiling of the apse of the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Detail of the completely frescoed internal surfaces of the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Frescoes in the sacristy of the church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia above the entrance door
Milano: Chapel of the Crucifix in the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Glimpse of the interior of the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Frescoed walls of the sacristy of the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Central body of the Church Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Retable of the altar of San Pancrazio in the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Chapel of the Nativity in the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Chapel of St. Joseph in the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Looking towards the chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows in the Church of St. Alexander in Zebedia
Milano: Detail of the choir of the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Central nave of the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Interior of the Chapel of Sant'Alessandro Sauli in the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Detail of the main altar in polychrome marbles of the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Arch of the patriarchs in the Church of Sant'Alessandro
Milano: Dome and chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows in the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia
Milano: Stone confessionals and central nave of  the Church of Sant'Alessandro in Zebedia