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Official Web site: San Lorenzo
Cover photo by Antonia Melis
Photo of the article by Antonia Melis and Lilia Bianco

The Church of San Lorenzo is located in Piazza Castello, adjacent to the Royal Palace. It was erected in commemoration of the victory in the Battle of Saint-Quentin.

To understand the significance and importance of this church, we must go back to the first half of the 1500s. This period was marked by intense wars between Spain and France for dominance over Italian territory and supremacy in Europe.

During the course of the war, the Savoyard state lost many territories. To regain its prestige and lands, Duke Charles II sought an alliance with Charles V of Spain. To seal the agreement, he sent his son, Emanuele Filiberto, into service at the imperial court.

Battle of Saint-Quentin

Emanuele Filiberto immediately distinguished himself as a skilled strategist and military tactician. So much so that in 1552, he became the commander of the Spanish army. The following year, Charles V passed away, leaving the Spanish crown to his son, Philip II (who was also Emanuele Filiberto’s cousin). The escalating tensions between Spain and France led to the decisive battle. On August 10, 1557 (the feast day of San Lorenzo), the Spanish forces, led by the Duke of Savoy, irreversibly defeated the French in the Battle of Saint-Quentin.

Church of San Lorenzo
Church of San Lorenzo: the organ. Photo by Lillia Bianco

To commemorate this significant victory, both the Spanish and the Piedmontese promised to build a church dedicated to San Lorenzo. Philip II promptly fulfilled this promise by constructing El Escorial, located a few kilometers from Madrid.

Emanuele Filiberto, however, had to wait before fulfilling the promise. He regained possession of his territories only two years later. Furthermore, the state’s finances were unfortunately too dire to construct a new church. He decided to renovate a small church near the Royal Palace and dedicate it to San Lorenzo.

In 1578, precisely in this church, a solemn mass was celebrated by San Carlo Borromeo for the first exhibition of the Shroud.

Church of San Lorenzo
Interior of the Church of San Lorenzo. Foto by Antonia Melis

Construction of the Church of San Lorenzo

The construction of the Church of San Lorenzo began only in 1668, resulting in the visible expansion we see today. The work was carried out by Guarino Guarini, a priest of the Theatine order. He inaugurated it on May 12, 1680, officiating a mass himself.

Guarini also designed the facade, although it was never realized. Looking at the square today, one would hardly think that a church exists there. The facade is indeed quite unassuming.

On January 26, 1983, at 5:15 PM, a plaque was placed on the church facade in memory of the Italian soldiers who fell during World War II in the Russian campaign. Italians participated in the Russian campaign with ten military divisions. As a result, every day at 5:15 PM, ten chimes are sounded.

Church of San Lorenzo
Dome of the Church of San Lorenzo. Photo by Antonia Melis

Interior of the Church of San Lorenzo

The interior of the Church of San Lorenzo is circular in Baroque style. What stands out is the complete absence of straight lines; everything is curved and undulating.

The entire construction is based on the number 8, symbolizing the perfect day and the victory of good over evil.

The dome is illuminated by 8 windows. It is intersected by a system of ribs that form an eight-pointed star, with a regular octagon at its center. When viewed from below, the windows create what is now ironically nicknamed the “Face of the Devil.”

The wooden pulpit from 1752 was originally built for the Basilica of Corpus Domini, but since it did not fit through the door, it was later placed in San Lorenzo.

Church of San Lorenzo
Interior of the Church of San Lorenzo. Foto by Lillia Bianco

Curiosity

The church also harbors many surprises and hidden symbols. During the equinox period, the sun illuminates the opening above the third chapel on the right, highlighting a concealed painting. The same phenomenon can be observed in the early morning on two other altars.

Another distinctive feature is the lighting. Starting from the bottom, we notice that the church is quite dark, symbolizing earthly life. However, as we raise our gaze, we see four different levels of brightness, symbolizing the elements of nature and the approach toward God.

To the left of the altar in the Chapel of the Addolorata, you’ll find the royal tribune, from which the dukes used to attend religious functions.

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