Within the courtyard of a building facing Via Giannone you will find a free-standing bell-tower that dates from 1230 – all that is left of the old church of Santissima Trinità, which was bulldozed in 1968.
This bell-tower, bought by a private individual after it had been spared demolition, now belongs to a company who offices are located within the building (the owner was one of the founders of the Italian National Trust). Together with the church, it once stood in the heart of what was called the Borgo degli Scigolatt (Market Garden District) and is nowadays better known as “Chinatown”.
It was in this church administered by the Order of Humble Friars, who also had their monastery here, that brother Bonvesin de la Riva was appointed provost in 1291. Author of a famous treatise on Milan – De Magnibus Urbis Mediolani – he was also the first to introduce within the Roman Catholic world the practice of ringing the Angelus bell in the evening.
In 1608, Cardinal Federico Borromeo ordered that the monastery foundation become a parish church: then, just eight years later, a fire destroyed that building, leaving only the bell-tower intact. However, the church was subsequently rebuilt, with the tower heightened in order to house an additional bell. In 1968, the administrators of the building agreed to a property development project that involved the demolition of the church and the construction of apartment blocks. The city’s Superintendent of Architectural Heritage found out only just in time to save the bell-tower, but was too late to save the monastery buildings.
So next time you are in Milan you might care to walk along Via Giannone and see this medieval bell-tower in a modern courtyard.
(Adapted in part from Secret Milan byMassimo Polidoro)