Naturalist and Geologist - Collegamento pro Sindone
© 1994 All rights reserved
Collegamento pro Sindone - September/October 1994 Issue

Bertola's altar
Bertola's altar inside the Shroud Chapel
(M. Paolicchi)

On June 1st 1694 the Shroud came solemnly into the Guarini Chapel and here has remained almost uninterruptedly for three centuries. The sumptuous building, completed by Duke Vittorio Amedeo II, was planned by a famous and whimsical Modenese architect, the theatine father Guarino Guarini. The work, situated between the Cathedral and the Royal Palace, was completed when Guarini was already dead since eleven years. The Shroud, put in a reliquary, was placed on the magnificent altar, an Antonio Bertola's work of art. Viittorio Amedeo II took also care of the realization of the Chapel's rich decorations. On 26th June of the same year blessed Sebastiano Valfrè sewed new supporting veils on the Shroud, in the presence of Duke Vittorio Amedeo and Duchess Anna. The blessed was so touched that some tears fell and wet the Holy Linen.

The place where the Shroud Chapel and the Cathedral are, boasts a very ancient Christian tradition: in fact the baptismal Church, where the first known Turin bishop, St. Massimo (end of IV cent. - V cent.) made his eloquent homilies to the catechumens and administered the baptism sacrament, was situated there. In reality the ancient cathedral was made up of three contiguous and communicating basilicas, occupying a more extensive space than the present Cathedral. The first one was dedicated to the Holy Saviour; the second one, baptismal, to St. John the Baptist; the third one to St. Mary de dompno, that is " major church". The most extensive basilica, the Saviour one, occupied the space between the today's bell tower and the whole left aisle of the present Cathedral, extending in length as far as under the Royal Palace vestibule. The Holy Saviour title remained till the demolition of the basilica itself (1490), to leave place to the construction of the present Cathedral. On the right of the Saviour basilica was the ancient baptismal rotunda, and St. Mary basilica was contiguous. Longobard people, who venerated St. John the Baptist as patron of their reign, built a central church which included the ancient baptistery; this maybe happened in times of King Agilulfo and pious Queen Teodolinda, builder of the Monza cathedral dedicated to St. John. It is however certain that St. John's cathedral was already there in the VII cent., a time in which the Saviour's one lost its primacy, because St. John became cathedral and the main church of the city. It is due to Cardinal Domenico della Rovere, elected in 1482, the destruction of the ancient basilicas to let place to the new cathedral, all built at his expense.In 1491, an year later the demolition of the three ancient churches, the new building foundation stone was laid. It was completed in 1497. The bell tower, dated back to 1470, was raised in 1700 by architect Filippo Juvara.

The Shroud arrived in Turin in 1578; it was received by Duke Emanuele Filiberto in the Lucento Castle, entered in town with a sumptuous procession and placed in St. Lorenzo Ducal Chapel. Around 1583 Duke Carlo Emanuele I, very devout of the Shroud, ordered the construction of a rotunda in the ancient palace, with the dome supported by eight columns, to be built, for keeping there the Shroud. In 1587 he ordered the realization, into the cathedral, of a sumptuous aedicule, resting on black marble columns, in place of the present high altar and he transferred there the precious Cloth. The following year he began to think of a monumental church for keeping there the precious relic; the drawing was realized by Count Carlo of Castellamonte, but although the material necessary for the construction was already ready, the works were not started even by his son, Vittorio Amedeo I, who had put aside a conspicuous sum for such purpose. Finally, Carlo Emanuele II, Vittorio Amedeo I's son, began the huge work. The architect was Amedeo of Castellamonte, Carlo's son; but in 1666 Guarino Guarini, a man with a portentous talent, arrived in Turin. He was a theologian, a philosopher, a man of letters, a playwright, a mathematical, an astronomer and an architect.

In 1668 the Duke nominated him as his architect and entrusted him the important construction. The relic was transferred by Carlo Emanuele II in St. Stefano and Caterina's chapel, that was at the end of the left aisle, and there it remained until 1694. For the Shroud chapel construction the cathedral apse was sacrificed; the two semicircular chapels at the end of the aisles were also demolished, to build the access staircases. The chapel is a black marble rotunda, that represent a grandiose sepulchre. In the middle there is the imposing altar, it too in black marble with bronze friezes, erected on some steps and surrounded by a gilt wood balustrade. All around, four angels holding Passion emblems and four silver lamps. On high, four iron gilt grilles protect the place where the reliquary, coated by enamelled and bejewelled silver, is usually kept. In it the Shroud is placed. The dome is an example without precedent in Western architecture: upper arcs build themselves on the keystones of the underlying arcs, getting more and more small. At the peak the dome finishes with a sharp pyramid; on the thin spire there is a globe surmounted by a cross encircled by Passion emblems. However the three hundred years stay of the Shroud in the Guarini chapel, have not been uninterrupted.In 1706, because of the French siege, the Shroud was transferred to Genoa.

During 1915-1918 war it was kept, with the reliquary wrapped in an amiantus cloth, in a shelter in the Royal Palace cellars. It returned to its usual seat on October 28th 1919. During the second world war (1939-1945) it was transported first to Rome, where it was temporarily placed in Guido Reni chapel in Quirinale, and subsequently to the Sanctuary of Montevergine (Avellino), where it remained until 1946. Card. Maurilio Fossati, archbishop of Turin, went there in person to take it back and he replaced it in the Guarini chapel on October 31st of that year.

On May 4th 1990, Shroud's liturgical feast, the chapel was closed, because of the falling down of some materials from the dome. To start the necessary restaurations, on February 24th 1993, Ash Wednesday, the reliquary containing the precious Linen was moved into the Cathedral, behind the high altar, where a special crystal container had been prepared; with the hope of replacing it soon in its ancient, glorious seat, not without any opportune conservative device.