Perhaps even the most curious travelers would never have paid attention to the modest church with an octagonal tholobate that rises on St. Stephen's Square (Piazza Santo Stefano) in the northern capital of Italy, if not for its ossuary, which fame has long become famous all over the world. The so-called crypt chapel is visited annually by hundreds of thousands of tourists, although it appeared only due to a lack of space in the city cemetery.
The history of San Bernardino alle Ossa began in the distant 12th century when the city hospital was built in front of the ancient basilica of Santo Stefano Maggiore. In those days, outbreaks of plague were not uncommon in Europe, claiming thousands of lives. Hunger and endless wars also spared no one. Death came to homes so quickly and took so many people that there was not enough space in the city cemetery. Therefore citizens came up with the idea of creating a special building for bones. A few years later, it was complemented with a church, which stood on the site of the present-day Church of San Bernardino alle Ossa.
In the middle of the 17th century, the so-called ossuary was almost destroyed and rebuilt thanks to the architect Giovanni Andrea Biffi, who turned the crypt into a genuine work of art. He significantly changed the facade and decorated the walls with human skulls and bones. The chapel niches and doors were also decorated with bones in the popular Rococo style. The vaults were painted with the fresco "Triumph of Souls" by the famous Italian artist Sebastiano Ricci.
At the beginning of the 18th century, the walls of the old church were no longer suitable. So they were replaced with a church designed by the talented architect Carlo Giuseppe Merlo. The new church was consecrated in honor of Saint Bernardino of Siena, for which it got its name. Today, it still welcomes parishioners, holds religious services, and invites everyone to enter the ancient crypt. Just go through the church, following the signs with the inscription "ossario".