Churches Of Turin - Italy
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The number of Churches in Turin is remarkable, amounting, it is said, to at least a hundred and twenty, including chapels and convents. Many of them are distinguished by richness of ornament and good architecture. I was especially struck with the noble aspect of the Church of St John, situated immediately behind the palace a flight of marble steps leads to the western front, which is very fine; the ,entrance is wide, and the doorway richly ornamented with well-executed basso-relievos, and supported on each side by marble pilasters. On entering the church, the first object which invites attention, is a beautiful circular font of white marble, festooned in curious workmanship. At each side are finely ornamented chapels, and at the farther end of the church are .planted the King's seat, and the organ gallery, both very splendidly adorned: One of the chapels (that of St Michael) is truly superb, and well deserves a particular description. It stands high, like a gallery, above the level of the church, of which it forms a part, opening from its centre by a handsome flight of steps, and separated only by a fine marble balustrade, which, as well as two superb columns on either side, are of black marble. The form of the chapel is circular, and the architecture very fine. The cupola is supported by pillars of black marble, grouped two and two; the bases and capitals bronze, richly gilt, producing an admirable contrast to the black marble. The floor is pure white marble, studded with golden stars. The ceiling, formed of trellis work,is whimsical; but the dark colouring, and sedate ground, correspond with the richness of the whole. The spaces betwixt the columns are filled with oval medallions, painted sky-blue, and filled with " ex-votos,"" some, they say, of a singular kind; for, besides noses, arms, eyes, and fingers, they omit no part of the human body that has received a cure, or been preserved from peril. Thus, we find Benvenuto Cellini on the door of Santa Lucia, offering up a golden eye, of curious workmanship, in thankfulness to God and that saint, for having been relieved from a splinter, which had entered so deeply, as to threaten the loss of sight. These ex-votos, of every form and material, may be purchased. The effect of the whole chapel is grand, solemn, and imposing, without being gloomy. The altar is magnificent, although it was pillaged by the French of many valuable and precious gems. I am told that, among other valuables, this chapel once possessed a miraculous figure of the Virgin, la Madonna della Consolazione, the size of life, composed of solid silver, and bearing on her head a crown of diamonds of the finest water. This statue disappeared, but not miraculously. Had this chapel been stripped by the French, even to the walls, its intrinsic beauty would have made it still striking. In the centre of the chapel, and in just proportion to its size, stands the altar—a low railing in white marble, surrounded with little seraphim, ten or twelve in number, marks the outer circle, and within, at the four corners, stand four angels, executed in a very good style. Hung round the altar are lamps, which burn continually, night and day. The whole is surmounted by a gilded glory, which, by rendering the height disproportioned, much injures the effect. This altar is not one of the least important in the world, since it is reputed to contain the shirt of our Saviour. While other churches had only the holy handkerchiefs, it was a proud triumph to possess a treasure so much more glorious. The history of the shirt is long, and perhaps not very interesting; but in the time of Calvin, who denied its authenticity, it was the cause of many controversial writings, some of which are still extant. It was a gift from Geoffroi, on his return from the Holy Land, to Amadee the First. His grand-daughter, into whose hands it naturally devolved, had the ill-fortune, when going on a visit to Chamberry, to meet Louis of France, and his royal consort, to be attacked on the road by a band of robbers, who, overcoming her guards and attendants, began forthwith to pillage the baggage. The miraculous shirt was preserved in a beautiful silver box, and no sooner had the banditti touched it, than they suddenly became impressed with such awe and terror, that they at once suffered the princess to continue her journey, replacing and restoring everything. Margaret was filled with amazement and joy, which she expressed so forcibly, that the king and his queen naturally felt a strong desire to possess the shirt; and when she was about to take leave of them, these good people thought it a propitious moment to beg it of her; Margaret flatly refused to part with it; but, when she recommenced her journey, the mules who carried the holy treasure could not be persuaded to stir a foot; and, as Sterne says, there is no arguing with any of their family." Margaret, therefore, taking the hint, regarded this as an intimation from Heaven, and left the shirt at Chamberry, where it was placed in a church. Some time after, during a terrible conflagration which happened in the city, the church which held the relic was burnt to the ground; the silver box was also consumed, but the shirt was only just singed sufficiently to give evidence of the miracle. All this is averred in different works, written in answer to Calvin.
The church of Corpus Christi, although not generally admired, pleased me much. The interior has an air of melancholy grandeur. It was built by Villogi; and improved by Count Alfieri, in the year 1753. Its origin and name arose from a miracle. A sacrilegious soldier, having stolen the small silver vase with the consecrated wafer, from a church in Chamberry, proceeded as far as Turin, where, believing himself safe, he stopped with his mule; but, to his utter amazement, the vase suddenly sprang up into the air, where it obstinately remained, till the Bishop Romagno, by a solemn procession, and fervent prayer, persuaded it to descend into a consecrated chalice. To commemorate this circumstance the church was built.
Among the ancient works of art to be seen in Turin, there is a celebrated Egyptian table, which is shewn with much pride. It is composed of enamelled figures, partly lined with silver, on a dark copper-coloured ground; and has once more found its way to Turin, after adventures probably as singular as those of any relic of Catholic times. It might be deemed little short of a miracle, that the soldiers, having begun to deface this precious monument, by picking out the silver, were deterred from proceeding; but this was fully as natural as miraculous: for they found the plates of silver difficult to pull off, being extremely thin, and, in all the more delicate parts, little more than mere varnish of silver. It is about three feet and a half in length, and nearly square, crowded with Egyptian figures, and surrounded by a zodiac, which, I should imagine, may be discovered to be the most interesting, as it certainly is the most intelligible, part of the table.
Among the objects most immediately attracting the attention of the traveller, in the general picture, or coup d'oeil, of Turin, the Superga may be mentioned—a church, or rather mausoleum, for the royal family of Piedmont. It is situated on a high hill, at a short distance from Turin; and was erected in fulfilment of a vow offered up to heaven, by Victor Amadeus, when the city was invested, in the year 1706, by Philip, Duke of Or-leans; and this place was selected for its site, because it was here that the King and Prince Eugene stood, while they laid the plan of the battle, by which the siege was raised, and Piedmont wrested from the dominion of the French. I find that one French author, Monsieur Millin, adds another motive for the choice—" C'etoit," he says, sur le Peton le plus eleve des coteaux qui bordent le Po, clans le lieu qui semble le plus s'approcher du ciel,"--that, being situated as near as possible to heaven, God might see his gratitude. There are, however, other motives for this choice, which may as safely be alleged: for it is not actually seated on the highest ground, but the most picturesque and beautiful; the surrounding country being seen in perspective, grouping around it, and so richly wooded, and studded with villas, that it seems like a prolongation of the city. As you approach Turin, the eye rests on the magnificent mausoleum; on leaving the city you still see it; and as you travel down the valley, it is again beheld with interest and admiration. Filippo Juvara was the architect of this memorable edifice.