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Although today the Church of San Francesco d’Assisi has a decidedly Baroque architecture, its ancient origins are medieval. The church is located at number 11 on the same street.

The medieval origin

In 1213, Saint Francis embarked on a journey that took him to visit northern Italy, France, and Spain. According to historians, including Il Pingone, he also passed through Turin in 1214. At that time, Turin was a small city with approximately 4000 inhabitants, enclosed within Roman walls, characterized by modest houses, narrow streets, and humble churches. The arrival of Saint Francis was met with devotion by both the common people and the nobility. In fact, one of the prominent families in the city, the Della Rovere, donated a church they had built at their own expense, dedicated to San Vittore.

Church of San Francesco d'Assisi
Altarpiece with Madonna and Child with Saint Anne

This became the first Franciscan church in the city. Evidence of its medieval origin can still be found inside the bell tower. The subsequent Baroque renovation only affected the exterior, as the interior still features the typical medieval walls and the characteristic pointed arch windows, now sealed.

The presence of the Franciscan friars had an immediate influence on the city, particularly due to their recognized honesty. Within the church, they safeguarded the treasury and the municipal archives, and their refectory often hosted meetings of the Wise Council. Additionally, the friars served as lecturers at the University of Turin.

The Church of San Francesco d’Assisi in Turin’s History

Over time, several chapels were built at the behest of important families or powerful guilds, such as those of tailors or apothecaries. In 1517, the church was definitively entrusted to the Franciscan friars.

With the transfer of the Savoy capital from Chambéry to Turin in 1563, the importance of the Franciscan community grew. Starting from 1580, the friars safeguarded the Holy Shroud within the church for a remarkable 7 years. Although the reason for transferring the relic remains unknown, it is assumed that Carlo Emanuele I wanted to keep it in a safer place in light of his plans to conquer Geneva.

From historical accounts, we know that the church originally had twelve chapels, and throughout the 1600s, there were ongoing renovations and modernizations of the entire structure.

Church of San FRancesco d'Assisi

During the 1706 Siege of Turin, the Franciscans made the church available by accommodating the city’s provisions in the churchyard and storing ammunition inside the refectory. Some documents report that a French projectile struck the church, piercing the roof, falling to the floor, and exploding in the underground chambers, shattering marble pieces, body fragments, and old bones.

In 1761, architect Bernardo Vittone was tasked with restructuring the entire church. He gave it the current Baroque appearance, enriching it with stucco and frescoes. The facade, however, was completed in 1885 by Mario Ludovico Quarini, following Vittone’s design.

The interior features three naves, housing several valuable works created by Turin artists. Notably, the Baroque-style confessionals, some of which bear the Franciscan coat of arms with crossed arms.

The church and San Giovanni Bosco

The Church and San Giovanni Bosco The Church of San Francesco d’Assisi holds particular relevance due to the missionary work of Don Bosco, which has now become famous worldwide.

On December 8, 1841, Don Bosco was about to celebrate Mass in the church when he witnessed the sacristan mistreating a young boy who refused to participate in the service.

Don Bosco chappel

Frightened, the boy fled, but the priest defended him, admonishing the sacristan and asking him to fetch the boy so he could attend the service.

After Mass, Don Bosco wanted to meet the boy. He discovered that his name was Bartolomeo Garelli, a 16-year-old from Asti. Orphaned by both parents, Bartolomeo worked as a mason but had very little education. He couldn’t read or write, nor did he know how to serve during Mass or have any religious knowledge.

This encounter moved the Saint to gather boys around him at the Convitto di San Francesco for catechism. Don Bosco himself recognized this meeting as the beginning of his entire pastoral work, stating:

This is the start of our Oratory, blessed by the Lord and growing beyond my wildest imagination.