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Official Web site: Cappella dei Banchieri e dei Mercanti
Phots by Enzo Traversi

The Cappella dei Banchieri e dei Mercanti is located in via Garibaldi 25, but it is not visible from the street. You need go inside the building, next to the Chiesa dei Santi Martiri.

The Chapel of Bankers and Merchants, also known as the Cappella dei Banchieri e dei Mercanti, was constructed to meet the needs of worship and prayer for the homonymous congregation.

Between the 1600s and 1700s, it became common throughout Europe for individuals engaged in similar professions to gather in congregations or brotherhoods. One such group was the Congregation of Merchants, Traders, and Bankers. Interestingly, bankers were assimilated with traders, as they were essentially merchants dealing in money.

The Congregation was established with the purpose of having its own meeting and prayer space. They used their funds to build this chapel. The Confraternity, still active today, continues to manage and maintain it.

The recognition of the Pia Congregazione dei Banchieri, Negozianti e Mercanti (Charitable Congregation of Bankers, Merchants, and Traders) took place in 1663. Chapel construction began only after this formal recognition, and its inauguration occurred in 1692.

The chapel is entirely dedicated to the Three Wise Men. This is a rarity among places of worship: there are only five others in Italy and two in Germany.

Throughout the church, you’ll find the eight-pointed star, which represents the Comet Star that guided the Three Wise Men.

Cappella dei Banchieri e dei Mercanti
Cappella dei Banchieri e dei Mercanti

The chapel

The decorations of the chapel date back a few years after its construction. On the walls, we find twelve large paintings with the main theme being the Epiphany, the day dedicated to the Three Wise Men.

Of particular interest is the painting by Luigi Vanier, titled I Magi alla capanna, in which a child is depicted with white legs and black arms. Honestly, the interpretation of this detail is still unknown.

The vaulted ceilings are adorned with frescoes by Stefano Maria Legnani, also known as Il Legnanino. This artist, renowned in the Turin region, is also the author of two paintings displayed within the chapel.

Cappella dei Banchieri e dei Mercanti

The altar, dating back to 1797, was conceived by Emanuele Buscaglione. Particularly charming is the ornate gold tabernacle door from 1694. However, it’s essential to clarify that the one currently on display in the chapel is a copy. The original is securely stored and only brought out during the Epiphany festivities on January 6th, the day that coincides with the celebration of the Three Wise Men and holds special significance for the congregation.

In the sacristy, another remarkable painting awaits, a creation by Moncalvo, who served as a court painter. Despite accusations that he couldn’t accurately depict hands, this particular artwork proves otherwise. In this piece, all the depicted characters proudly display both hands in the foreground.

Restoration

The Cappella dei Banchieri e dei Mercanti has been exceptionally well-maintained, thanks to the diligent efforts of the Confraternity. Over the centuries, the confreres have preserved its artistic splendor and enhanced its value through skillful renovations at opportune moments.

The most recent restoration occurred in 2017, during which the chapel underwent a comprehensive refurbishment, returning it to its original condition.

Cappella dei Banchieri e dei Mercanti
Cappella dei Banchieri e dei Mercanti

The Universal calendar

Despite the high artistic value of the frescoes and paintings preserved in the chapel, much of its fame is attributed to a futuristic object, especially considering the era.

We are obviously referring to Giovanni Plana’s Universal calendar. Plana, a mathematician and astronomer who lived during the 19th century, created this remarkable calendar in 1835.

The Universal calendar is a system composed of cylindrical drums containing information about dates, days, months, religious holidays, and lunar phases. Its temporal range spans from year zero to the year 4000!

The operation appears straightforward. By turning a crank, which sets in motion a mechanism of gears and chains, one can adjust the cylinders to select the desired date.

The altar

Corresponding to the chosen date, relevant information is displayed: the day of the week, holidays, lunar phases, tides, and more.

The technical complexity that Giovanni Plana had to tackle was immense. He had to account for numerous parameters during its creation, including varying solar month lengths, leap years, lunar phases and months, the Gregorian calendar reform, movable feasts like Easter, and other religious observances.

The algorithm

How Plana managed to calculate all this information remains a mystery. What is certain is that his machine is flawless and never misses a beat.

The Cappella dei Banchieri e dei Mercanti, with its perpetual calendar, owes much of its fame to this forward-thinking invention, especially considering the era in which it was created.

The Perpetual calendar

To unveil the mysterious calculation algorithm, we had to wait for nearly two centuries. In 2015, the Politecnico di Torino (Polytechnic University of Turin), in collaboration with the Congregazione dei Banchieri e dei Mercanti (Congregation of Bankers and Merchants), organized a competition to decode and reveal the algorithm used by Plana.

Four research teams, each consisting of three or four members, participated in the contest. The winners were three students: Roberto Cappato, Sergio Spano, and Meysam Nasiri.

Their study demonstrated that the Perpetual Calendar is akin to a true computer. Composed of drum memory, disk, and tape, it can store over 46,000 data points.

Beyond the scientific community, this calendar, considered the world’s first computer, also captures the attention of collectors and antiquarians. Fortunately, all attempts to purchase it have failed so far. If it were to end up in a private collection, we might never have the chance to admire it again.

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