Many tourists often find themselves inside the Basilica of the Santi Ambrogio e Carlo, because this Basilica faces “il Corso,” Via del Corso, one of the main avenues of Rome that begins from Piazza Venezia all the way up to Piazza del Popolo. This avenue is not only important for historical but also for political (the Italian parliament is in one square that faces the avenue) and commercial (most of the luxury stores are located here) reasons. So, it is a place which tourists and Italians certainly very often frequent.
The Basilica was built in 1612, after a preexisting church dating back to the 10th century was demolished. Indeed in the 15th century, Pope Sixtus IV approved the confraternity for the people coming from Lombardy, a region in Northern Italy that had Milan as its most important city. The church was named after Saint Ambrose, the great Bishop of Milan living in the 4th century. After the canonization of Saint Carlo Borromeo, his name was also added to the church.
As stated above, the previous building was demolished and Onorio and Martino Longhi undertook the construction of the new one. The dome was built in 1668, by none other than the great artist Pietro da Cortona. Cardinal Luigi Omodei built the facade because he did not like the one built by the famous architect Carlo Rainaldi. This project was completed in 1684.
The archconfraternity is at the heart of what the Basilica is today, as it is specified in their official website: “The origins of the Archconfraternity from the second half of the fifteenth century, when the impulse given to the building by the Roman Pope Nicholas V, had run a number of artists and craftsmen from Lombardy who, being away from their countries, wished to establish a brotherhood with the church and a national Hospital. The promoters of the initiative succeeded during the pontificate of Sixtus IV, who, with the short ‘supremae dispositionis’ of August 29, 1471, gave the canonical erection of the pious Association consisting of Lombardi residents in Rome. He also gave the Church of St Nicholas Tufo with its appurtenances, so that one could build a hospice, saying ‘hospital Sancti Ambrosii Lombardorum,’ by and at the expense of the members of that pious Association. After the canonization of St Charles, Paul V with the Short ‘Pias christifidelium Confraternitates’ of August 18, 1612, raised the Confraternity to ‘Confraternity of Saints Ambrose and Charles,’ which, in the person of Cardinal Paolo Emilio Sfondrati, patron of the Brotherhood, conceived the idea of a new temple dedicated to the new saint, right next to the building of the church of St. Ambrose.” Owing to this strong link with Lombardy and Milan, the titular Cardinal of the Basilica is always the current Bishop of Milan.
The same website so describes the interior of the Basilica: “Baroque interior of a Latin cross (m.72×54), three naves with ambulatory and crypt cupola (high ml.slm 72), six chapels with cupolas, an oratorio (with a ‘Deposition’ Tommaso Della Porta). The Basilica houses the precious relic of the Heart of St. Charles Borromeo, donated by Cardinal Federico Borromeo in 1614.” Cardinal Federico Borromeo is the one described by Alessandro Manzoni in the famous Italian novel The Betrothed.”
Northern Italy is considered the most significant part of Italy as the exchange between Milan and Rome presently is and was very strong in the past. The presence of people coming from Lombardy is very important in the eternal city. Let us remember that some important Popes also came from this region, for brevity’s sake let us only mention those of the past century like Pius XI, Saint John XXIII and Saint Paul VI who was the last who came from this region. Last but not the least, we also need to take into consideration the numerous missionaries who come from Northern Italy, as from Lombardy and Veneto. So this area is not only important for commercial reasons but for the growth of Catholicism in Italy and around the world.