December 8th is celebrated in many catholic countries as Mary's holy and immaculate conception, but in Milan December 7th is also a local holiday: in fact, on this day, the city honors sant’Ambrogio (saint Ambrose), its patron saint.
Who was saint Ambrose
Aurelius Ambrose is considered one of the most important personalities in the 4th century Church. Born in Trier, Germany, in 339-340 AD, he studied rhetoric and eloquence in Rome, and then he finally moved to Milan in 370.
Here he had to resolve conflicts among Milanese people trying to elect the city's new bishop. He delivered a speech of such effectiveness and spirituality that he was himself indicated as the bishop's successor.
Ambrose initially refused the commission because, as was the practice in those days, he was not yet baptised and did not possess sufficient knowledge of Theology. However, following pressure from the imperial court, he accepted the role of the bishop: the appointment was made official on 7 December 374, a day since then used to celebrate the patron saint.
As bishop, Ambrose distinguished himself by his concern for the poor and his austere lifestyle. He changed the Roman rite creating the Ambrosian rite and had several basilicas built, including San Nazaro, San Simpliciano, and Sant'Ambrogio, where he was buried when he died in 397.
The myths around Saint Ambrose
A famous miracle is attributed to Saint Ambrose, whose story is linked to the legend of the Devil's Column, located on the left side of the Basilica of Saint Ambrose and on which two holes are visible. It is said that one morning the saint, while walking in the courtyard of the basilica, was tempted by Satan who was trying to convince him to renounce his position as bishop. St Ambrose kicked him and knocked him against the column with his horns, forming the two holes. The devil remained stuck in the column until the following day, when he disappeared into the column through one of the two holes, thus creating an opening to hell.
Another legend has it that one day when he was a little kid and he was sleeping, a swarm of bees flew in and out his mouth without causing any damage: instead, they left honey. That is why he is also the patron of the beekeepers!
Traditions and celebrations
The Milanese celebrate the saint with a day off: the more religious attend the Mass held in the basilica, the others - by tradition - visit the Oh Bej! Oh Bej! Fair, amidst roasted chestnuts, mulled wine, and stalls dedicated to nativity scenes and Christmas decorations.
December 7th is also when most Italians put up their Christmas tree in their houses!
Did you like this article? Then learn more about Italian Christmas traditions below!
- Christmas Time and New Year’s Eve in Italy
- Pandoro or Panettone
- Studiare Italiano e visitare i mercatini di Natale
- Il Natale in Italia: la cena di vigilia
Scuola Leonardo da Vinci Milan
Thanks to its prestigious universities and academies, Milan is the elected place of education for numerous Italian and international students.
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