ST. AMBROSE CHURCH, The Golden Altar

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Audio File length: 2.16
English Language: English

Once you reach the end of the central nave, you're at the most sacred part of the basilica, which is under the octagonal dome: there is a fence surrounding the main altar before you. Unfortunately this part of the church was rebuilt due to the damage it suffered in World War II, but it still has the same appearance as in St. Ambrose's times. At the back you'll see a huge mosaic with a gold background that has been restored several times, and in some places is more than twelve centuries old! On the right side, the Bishop's chair is made of carved wood and is from the fifteenth century.


And now you should get ready for one of the most valuable works of art in the city. Surrounded by four ancient columns of porphyry and under an opulent canopy with plaster decorations, you can admire the amazing "Golden Altar". It is one of the most important examples of European art from the time of Charlemagne between the eighth and ninth centuries AD.


The altar was created by a goldsmith of extraordinary ability called Vuolvinio, and as you can see it's pretty much a large wooden treasure chest entirely covered with plates embossed with gold and golden silver. Each face is divided into tiles and decorated with enamels and precious stones. The front depicts scenes from the life of Christ and there is a cross in the center with the four evangelists and twelve apostles. The sides depict angels, saints, and crosses. The back depicts episodes from the life of St. Ambrose, while the circles at the center of each side show two archangels and the two scenes with the masterpiece's protagonists: one shows St. Ambrose crowning the jeweler who made the altar, and the other shows a bishop presenting the Saint with a model of the church.


FUN FACT: among the Golden Altar's various tiles depicting scenes from the life of St. Ambrose, there's even one where we can see the Saint's slippers under a bed. Each tile has a Latin inscription explaining the episode: if you manage to catch a priest nearby, you can ask him to translate them for you!


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