The church of St. Thomas is one of the oldest churches in Turin. The first documents that mention it date back to 1115 and we know that in 1351 Pietro Della Rovere was its rector. Located between the “way of the two oxen” and “way of iron bar”, surrounded by three small cemeteries, in 1445 the church was so decrepit that it collapsed, along with the bell tower. In 1447 the rector Michele from Rivarolo had the church rebuilt according to the previous plan: three aisles, ten altars and a huge gate. Then the documents are silent for almost a hundred years.
In 1536 the Friars Minor lost their church Santa Maria degli Angeli. In 1542 the Franciscan community was then placed in the church of St. Thomas and brought new vitality to the neighborhood, surrounded at the time by cemeteries and gardens.
Pope Paul III, with a bull dated July 9th, 1545, laid down the agreement between the Minors and Canon Buschetti. On August 18, 1576 through public deed, the Franciscans took possession of the parish and in 1584 started major restoration and reconstruction work on the church. On June 19th of that year, Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy laid the foundation stone of the main walls of the new building. One year later the church had the roofing, the facade was still rustic and the primitive altar, dedicated to Saints Thomas and Carlo Borromeo, was replaced after 1619 by a new sumptuous Baroque marble altar, patronage of the noble Scaglia di Verrua family .
The consecration took place on May 8th, 1621. In 1698 the church was greatly damaged by the explosion of the powder keg of Turin, which destroyed windows and caused the collapse of a temporary dome. Therefore, in 1703, the construction of a new dome began, designed by the architect Agostino Rama. In 1717 the interior décor was completed, while the facade was completed in 1736 with the addition of a large three quadrant clock.
In 1801 the entire monastery was seized by Napoleon who in 1808 ordered the demolition the church, a plan which was never carried out. The return of Vittorio Emanuele I to Turin was welcomed by the parish priest Father Sebastiano Matteis, who had already in 1824 organized the restoration of the facade. A few years went by and the convent was enlarged to cover the entire block: in 1856 it stretched from Via Monte di Pietà, Via XX Settembre, Via Bertola and Via San Tommaso and lodged between 80 and 100 monks. With the 1859 Rattazzi Law the entire monastery was confiscated by the state and the friars moved to the Consolata Shrine in Turin.
In 1895, the City Council decreed the demolition of the church in order to complete the construction of Via Pietro Micca, called “the diagonal”, and designed in 1885 to join the Citadel to Piazza Castello. The influence of the famous Turin architect and engineer Carlo Ceppi (1829-1921), and the parish priest father Turbiglio, allowed the preservation of part of the church by demolishing only the facade and ten altars, thus saving the cupola and the main altar. In 1898 the project by Ceppi was implemented: the church changed its appearance, whilst maintaining elegance and harmony. In 1978 the parish passed to the Archdiocese of Turin and in 1992 new restoration and maintenance works were undertaken.
The current appearance is due to architect Ceppi, who, as mentioned, prevented the demolition of the sacred building during the construction of Via Pietro Micca. The plan of the church passed from a Latin cross with a Greek cross. For the facade Ceppi was inspired by the architectural plan of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice. The statues of St. Francis and St. Anthony of Padua, who were on the facade, were placed in two niches on either side of the new entrance. The dome designed by architect Rama was painted during the church interior decoration and covered with lead in 1831; after numerous infiltration of rainwater which damaged the paintings in 1987 both the coat of plaster and the lead covering were redone . The current bell tower is linked to the laying of the foundation stone in 1584 and today there are four bells dedicated to St. Peter, St. Thomas, the Virgin Mary and the Name of Jesus.
The interior decoration followed the evolution of the building: the previous painting of the choir was made by Francesco Villanis and Giuseppe Allamani; the glory of St. Francis, by Lombard Salvatore Bianchi (1653-1727) was depicted on the ceiling of the church, the aisle was decorated by the brothers Gioannini. However, these artworks were damaged by infiltration of rainwater and the paintings were taken up by the painter Vianelli. thanks to architect Carlo Ceppi, new redecoration works of the interior took place, strongly sponsored by pastors P. Turbiglio, P.C. Mondo, P. Bonaventura Enrietti, P. Vallaro and P. Agnello.
The stained glass windows were given as a gift by the people on the occasion of the Jubilee of the parish P. Vincenzo Vallaro. The middle one commemorates the Franciscan centennial VII (1226-1926).
Today’s main altar was ordered by father Teodoro Pezza da Cuceglio in 1834 and consecrated in 1836. Over the side entrance doors there are busts of St. Francis and St. Bonaventure. On either side of the altar, on top, are four stands with gratings in gilded wood. The pipe organ was originally on the left, while to the right the two rooms once used as a library, were transformed by Father Angelo Pichetto into a chapel for sick priests and for the princes of the House of Savoy. To the latter, called “Chapel of the Prince”, Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy had access to privately receive communion.
Altar of the Immaculate
Enrico Reffo,Vergine Immacolata with san Bonaventura and san Bernardino from Siena, santa Lucia, sant’Agnese and other saints, 9th Century
This altar, beloved by the Franciscans and the Company of the Daughters of Mary is to the left of the main altar. The central canvas depicting the Immaculate Virgin with St. Bonaventure and St. Bernardine of Siena, Saint Lucia, Saint Agnes and other saints, is by the famous painter Enrico Reffo (1831-1917). In ancient times on this altar was placed a painting by Moncalvo, replaced in 1835 by another work by Angelo Vacca. The marble of this altar, renovated in 1838, comes from the seventeenth century main altar which was destroyed.
Altar of St. Joseph
Particularly striking is the statue of the Child who abandons himself in the arms of St. Joseph, to whom Franciscans have always been particularly devoted.
Altar of St. Francis
At one time the altar was dedicated to St. Anthony; Today the relics of Saint Gaudenzia are laid there, brought here from the Roman catacombs in the eighteenth century. During the French Revolution the golden urn was placed inside the main wall and was found only after this was removed in 1895.
The choir, made of walnut, is dated 1634 and signed with the letters IBF, as reported by an inscription in the center. Above the choir there are two paintings from 1904 by Nicola Fava. They depict the Preaching of St. Thomas in India (right) and the Martyrdom of St. Thomas (left) according to the apocryphal book “Acts of St. Thomas”. The vault of the choir, as well as the two vaults of the transept, were painted by Secchi in 1963. Secchi himself, the year before, painted the four Evangelists on the base of the dome.
Altar of the Crucifix
To the right of the main altar is now the altar of the Crucifix, once the altar of the Souls. The angel on the right is in the act of pouring a glass over the souls to remind us that the Mass earns prayers of intercession for the Souls of Purgatory. On the right wall St. Bernardino of Siena is depicted; on the left Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen and on the side St. Clare of Assisi.
Shrine of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart
The shrine was built by will of Father Bonaventura Enrietti, in fulfillment of a vow of his predecessor father Turbiglio . The latter, in fact, beginning his regency of the church of St. Thomas in 1871, launched the devotion (approved by Pius IX in 1860) of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. The statue which today adorns the altar arrived from Issodum in France, was placed where the altar of St. Anthony was , and was crowned by the Archbishop of Turin Lorenzo Gastaldi, in 1880. It was greatly venerated by Turin which called it “Madonna of the desperate “. The chapel is by the architect Giuseppe Gallo (1860-1927), in an eclectic style, in which the late Gothic style prevails. The Lord enthroned is painted on the vault, surrounded by angels. At his feet is the Virgin Mary. The Protectors of the Franciscans are painted on the walls and above is a dance of the angels. The shrine was consecrated by Cardinal Agostino Richelmj (1850-1923), archbishop of Turin, on May 2, 1900.
The sacristy was commissioned by father Francis di Monforte in 1663, while the cabinets date 1736. Of great note is the coffered ceiling, depicting the Blessed Franciscan John Duns Scotus, a supporter of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. On the four sides of the vault are the faces of father Turbiglio, father Mondo, father Bonaventura Enrietti and father Vincenzo Vallaro, to whom we owe the last embellishments of the church. The Immaculate is by Michael Antonio Milocco, while above the doors are located five paintings by Domenico Ollivero, completed in 1731, reproducing scenes from the life of Franciscan saints.
Archive F. Monetti- A. Cifani, school of Pier Francesco Mazzucchelli said Morazzone, Estasi of san Francesco d’Assisi, 17th Century Archive F. Monetti- A. Cifani, Pietro Domenico Ollivero, san Francesco d’Assisi changed water into wine, 1731 Archive F. Monetti- A. Cifani, Pietro Domenico Ollivero, The miracle of the mule of sant’Antonio from Padova, 1731 Archive F. Monetti- A. Cifani, Pietro Domenico Ollivero, Sant’Antonio from Padova preaches to the fish, 1731 Archive F. Monetti- A. Cifani, Pietro Domenico Ollivero, San Giovanni from Capestrano liberation of Belgrado, 1731 Archive F. Monetti- A. Cifani, Pietro Domenico Ollivero, Estasi of san Francesco d’Assisi, 1731 Archive F. Monetti- A. Cifani, Pietro Domenico Ollivero, San Salvatore from Horta heals the sick and obsessive, 1731
The pipe organ
The pipe organ, built by will of Father Ireneo Bonardelli, is by Andrea e Giuseppe Serassi from Bergamo, dates from 1788 and was originally placed on the left side of the main altar. The magnificent sound is still intact with its three thousand reeds in Tigrinya tin, while in 1889 the famous company Vegezzi-Bossi turned it into pneumatic organ. It was finally restored by organ maker Anselmo Alexi on the bicentennial of the building. The current location was designed by architect Carlo Ceppi, during the restoration of the church. The pulpit dates from 1724 and was built, in walnut, by master wood carver Carlo Maria Ugliengo.