Beneath Milan's Duomo lies the Battistero Paleocristiano, ruins of a Early Christian Christian baptistery dating from the 4th century. The excavations also include the remains of earlier cathedrals. The Battistero is a magnificent example of an ancient octagonal baptistery and it is almost certainly where St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, baptized St. Augustine.
History of the Early Christian Baptistery
Milan's first cathedral was completed by 355 AD, when a synod was held there, and the baptistery was almost certainly complete by then as well. That makes it slightly newer than the Lateran Baptistery in Rome (the oldest baptistery in Europe) and older than the Baptistery of St. John in Poitiers (which is the oldest Christian building in France).
St. Ambrose became bishop of Milan in 374. He is credited with the inscription on the walls of the baptistery, which reads:
In Christian symbolism, the number eight represents eternity and rebirth, because the world was created in seven days and Christ rose from the dead on the eighth day. Most Early Christian baptisteries, as well as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, were octagonal in plan.
St. Augustine came to Milan in 384 and was immediately impressed by the preaching of Bishop Ambrose. At first attending sermons to admire his rhetorical skill, Augustine was eventually moved by the message and converted to Catholic Christianity. Ambrose baptized Augustine and his son Adeodatus on Easter Vigil in 387. It is very likely that this momentous event - the baptism of one Latin Doctor of the Church by another - took place in this baptistery.
What to See at the Early Christian Baptistery
The ticket office and entrance to the excavations is inside Milan Cathedral, near the back. The excavated ruins include both the Cathedral of St. Thecla (in two incarnations: 4th century and 5th-12th century) and the 4th-century Baptistery.
The octagonal baptismal font is easily identifiable in the center, with apses radiating outward around it. Two canals that fed the font can be seen, as well as fragments of the marble pavement. There are also surviving pieces of fresco, inscription, bits of mosaic, and some artifacts such as oil lamps.
Quick Facts on the Early Christian Baptistery
|Names:||Battistero Paleocristiano · Early Christian Baptistery · Milan Baptistery|
|Categories:||archaeological sites; baptisteries; ruins|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||45.464111° N, 9.190637° E|
|Address:||Piazza del Duomo, Milan, Italy|
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Early Christian Baptistery|
- Personal visit (May 12, 2008).
- Charles B. McClendon, The Origins of Medieval Architecture: Building in Europe AD 600-900 (Yale University Press, 2005), 13-15.
- Fodor's Italy 2005.
- Photos of the Early Christian Baptistery - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of the Early Christian Baptistery, Milan
Below is a location map and aerial view of the Early Christian Baptistery. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.