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Photos from Lucia Ranieri

The Cathedral of Turin, also known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, is the main Catholic place of worship in Turin. It is located in the square of the same name and serves as the episcopal seat and the archdiocese of the city. The cathedral stands in the historic center, near the ancient Roman Theater and behind the Royal Palace.

The Turin Cathedral is the only religious building in Turin built in the Renaissance style. Historically, it is believed that there were three churches in this area, including the main one dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. The building was likely consecrated by the Lombards around 600 AD.

All three existing churches were destroyed around 1490, but the bell tower, dedicated to Saint Andrew and built in 1469, was spared. In 1720, Filippo Juvarra raised the tower by 12 meters with a Baroque construction, which can still be observed today.

The cathedral of Turin
The Bell Tower

The construction, the Shroud and the fire

In 1491, Bianca di Monferrato, the widowed wife of Charles I, and the bishop commissioned Amedeo de Francisco da Settignano to construct a new Cathedral. The work was completed in 1505, and on September 21 of that year, it was consecrated with a solemn mass.

The cathedral of Turin
Main altar

In 1578, when Cardinal Carlo Borromeo decided to embark on a pilgrimage from Milan to Chambéry to visit the Holy Shroud, then Duke of Savoy, Emanuele Filiberto, chose to transfer it to Turin to shorten his journey. Since then, the Holy Shroud has been kept inside the Cathedral.

In 1667, Guarino Guarini was called upon to enlarge the Cathedral by constructing a chapel that would highlight the display of the Shroud. Guarini worked on a previous project by Carlo di Castellamonte, completing the dome in 1694.

More recently, Carlo Alberto wanted to place a copy of L’ultima cena of Leonardo da Vinci’s inside the Cathedral. The copy, weighing over 900 kilograms, was completed in 1835 and hung on the counter-façade.

In 1997, during the night between April 11 and 12, a fire destroyed part of Guarini’s chapel. Miraculously, the Shroud was saved thanks to the intervention of firefighters. The restoration, entrusted to architect Maurizio Momo, was completed in 2018.

The cathedral of Turin
View from the Bell Tower

The interior features a Latin cross plan with three naves. On the sides, there are various decorated chapels, and the Royal Tribune, commissioned by Vittorio Amedeo III and completed in 1775, stands out. Beneath the Royal Tribune, the Holy Shroud is preserved in a reliquary .

The cathedral of Turin and the sundial

On the side wall of the Cathedral, as you head toward the Royal Square, there is a curious and mysterious sundial. However, this sundial doesn’t indicate solar time; instead, it marks the months and zodiac signs. This peculiarity is noteworthy, especially considering the complex relationship between faith and astrology.

There is no record of when or why it was placed on the church wall, but two features make it unique:

  1. Vertical Zodiac Signs: Unlike the usual circular arrangement, the zodiac signs are positioned vertically.
  2. Hidden Visibility: These signs are not easily visible. They become clear only when sunlight strikes them in a specific way, creating a sort of holographic effect.