Milan's St Ambrose in 10 facts

7 December is one of the most celebrated annual holidays in Milan. The day marks the feast of St Ambrose. But who was he? Here are 10 facts to get to know a bit more about this important figure in Milan's history.

  •  St Ambrose is Milan’s patron saint, meaning he is considered by the Catholic faith to be the protector of the city and its residents.
  • His name was Aurelius Ambrosius, he lived from 340 CE to 397 CE and although he developed a relationship with Milan during a significant part of his life, he was actually born in Trier (Treves), in modern-day Germany.
  • St Ambrose is said to have been very devoted to his studies. He lived in Rome for a while, where he studied literature, law and rhetoric.
  • Right after completing his studies in 370 CE, he was appointed the governor of Liguria and Emilia which required him to move to Milan, the headquarters, where he lived for the rest of his life.
  • After being governor in Milan for four years, Ambrosius was then appointed bishop of the city. However the circumstances in which such appointment took place are said to have been extremely uncommon. For starters, he was not even baptised at the time and initially he did not want to accept the title. Rumour has it that it took eight days to convince him to accept the role and to take all measures necessary, such as being baptised. He was appointed bishop of Milan on 7 December 374 AD.
  • The image of bees or beehives often accompanies the depiction of the saint. The insect alludes to a legend about St Ambrose during his infancy, when a swarm of bees was said to have left honey on the face of the sleeping child. His father interpreted the episode as a prophecy signalling that we would grow up to have a ‘honeyed tongue’, or great eloquence.
  • St Ambrose is also the patron of beekeepers, wax workers, candlemakers, students and domestic animals.
  • St Ambrose is said to have been a man of strong convictions who did not fear facing authorities when it came to defending Catholic morals. One episode narrates that he once refused to let Emperor Theodosius I enter a church because of the emperor’s massacre of approximately 7,000 people in the Greek port city of Thessalonica, in the year 390 AD.
  • To this day in Milan, the Church of S. Ambrogio is considered one of the city's most important religious sites. St Ambrose founded the cathedral himself in 379 CE, and this is where his mortal remains are buried.
  • Two main events mark St Ambrose’ Day in Milan on 7 Dec: Mass held in his honour at the Sant’Ambrogio Cathedral and the Oh, Bej! Oh, Bej! Market surrounding the Sforza Castle, which is said to have taken place in front of the S. Ambrogio cathedral in the early years of its tradition.