Milan, Italy: mostly known for high fashion, runway shows, models and Duomo, but when I was living there in 2013 during fashion week and a couple of months following, I got to know some weird locals that shared my interest in weird things.
Enter San Bernardino alle Ossa, from the outside, a small worn down looking church resting in the shadows of the great Duomo cathedral that sits in the center of the city. Upon entering the church, It looks just like any other small church, and compared to some other other churches I wandered into on my three month stay in Milan, it was not much. The instructions that I received from the locals at a tattoo shop I got some work done at read “Follow where the angels point.” If that wasn’t already setting the mood for this to get creepy, the fact that the “angels” were small sculptures on the walls and ceilings depicting children with angel wings all pointing down a small hall to a door. Not a soul was in the church, it was oddly quiet, even for a church. I proceeded through the doors into a candle smoke filled room about fifteen square feet. The room was dark, lit only by candles and a few skylights in the high ceiling. There were a few rows of old wooden pews in the room, at the front of the pews a small podium covered in half melted candles sat behind a wooden fence.
Now for the creepy factor- The entire walls from floor up to the twenty plus foot ceiling were lined with the bones and skulls of ancient Italians. Most of the skulls were loosely stacked and organized behind wire grating with no barrier, nothing to stop you from walking up and touching these aged bones. I was mesmerized. I spent about an hour in this room just staring and taking pictures, then immediately went back to my apartment and began to research what and why this was.
In the early thirteenth century, the graveyard had run out of room, so the keepers of the cemetery started stacking the bones of the newly deceased in sort of medieval storage closet. The church wasn’t built until about sixty years later, but before that people would gather in front of the storage room full of bones to remember lost loved ones. The church nearly burnt down in the seventeenth century and a new church was built next to the burnt one. They later renovated the old one and built the room that now holds all of the bones, at this time it was dedicated to St. Bernardino.
Most of the locals don’t even know it exists, its not advertised in the guides or anywhere else I could find, in fact, during my stay I ended up bring some locals that I had befriended just to show them something amazing in their own backyard.