Corso Palestro, 14 – Torino
Our journey on the streets of Murialdo begins from the Collegio Artigianelli (Little Artisans Boarding School) of Turin, without any doubt the most “Murialdine” among the works St. Leonard did among the youth and that are still “alive” today. Here there are Murialdo’s room, the place in which he worked from 1866 to 1900, the exhibition-museum on his life and activities, the chapel of St. Joseph where the Josephites’ congregation was born.
The beginnings of the Collegio Artigianelli (Little Artisans Boarding School) go back to Fr. John Cocchi (1813-1895) who had already founded the Guardian Angel Oratory and at the end of 1849 began to gather around himself a group of poor and abandoned boys. First he housed them in a room of the Most Holy Lady of the Annunciation parsonage, where he was assistant parish priest, then moved them to the Guardian Angel Oratory, but already at the beginning of 1850 he rented three rooms in Borgo Vanchiglia so to manage to start a school for his first boys.
The boarding school went through other moves (in via della Zecca, now via Verdi, and later in via Villa della Regina), until the transfer (March 1863) into its permanent location at Corso Palestro 14.
Fr. Cocchi, who was the founder, directed it until 1852. Then he moved to Cavoretto, on Turinwas substituted by the theologians Giacinto Tasca and Peter Joseph Berizzi, till 1863, when Berizzi remained the sole rector.surrounding hills, to establish there an agricultural school. In the direction he
The boarding school proposed to welcome, assist, educate in a Christian manner and insert into professional work orphaned, poor and abandoned boys. In the first times the boys went to learn a trade in the city’s artisan shops (shoemakers, smiths, carpenters…), later the first internal workshops were set up, which could expand and get better when the boarding school had the new building in corso Palestro. The name “Artigianelli” (Little Artisans), chosen by Fr. Cocchi, alluded to the professional formation which the institute provided to its young men.
It was theologian Peter Joseph Berizzi who developed the workshops, founded the printing works (where “La Voce dell’Operaio” ‘The Voice of the Worker’ was printed, the catholic magazine founded in 1876 also with Murialdo’s collaboration; today it is named “La Voce del Popolo” ‘The Voice of the People’ and is the weekly of Turin diocese), and surrounded himself with a group of valid collaborators, among whom two young clerics stood out, Giulio Costantino and Eugenio Reffo. In 1866 Fr. Berizzi was recalled by his home diocese because he had been named arch-priest in the cathedral of Biella. He approached Murialdo and implored him to assume the director-ship of the boarding school. St. Leonard heard it with surprise and also fear. He knew the Artigianelli, because he went there every Saturday to confess the boys since 1855. But now it was about a radical change in his way of living and his occupations. He had also to accept a quite heavy responsibility: that of an institute burdened with huge debts and without sure income, since almost all the boys were housed for free. One could rely almost only on the benefactors’ alms.
On November 6, 1866 the Boarding School board of governors sent the letter appointing him as rector to Murialdo. He answered, accepting it, on November 13. On December 9, 1866, the second Sunday of Advent and the public feast of the Immaculate Conception, Murialdo made his first appearance as rector in the institute. During the following months Berizzi stayed at his side to help him to fit in at the institute. Finally, on May 12, 1867, the feast of the Patronage of St. Joseph, Murialdo officially entered the college. Berizzi had left for Biella 5 days before. From that 12 of May and until the end of his life St. Leonard will live there, in the room that still today keeps so many memoirs and signs of his presence and holiness.
The number of boys living in the school when Murialdo accepted the duties of rector was about 150. Their number grew in the following years, reaching as high as 180-200 at times. They attended four elementary classes (they became five in 1890) and a complementary course. At around age 12 they could enter the workshops for an apprenticeship which lasted until they were 19 years old. Murialdo attempted to perfect the intellectual and technical formation in the schools and workshops. The latter numbered five in 1867 and rose to ten during his long tenure as rector: typesetters, typographers, drawer lithographers, printer lithographers, wood-turners, sculptors, tailors, shoemakers, book-binders, type-founders and blacksmiths.
Collegio Artigianelli has a unique and inestimable value for the Josephites and the whole Murialdo Family since here Murialdo lived 33 years and here he founded the Congregation of Saint Joseph. It is the Mother House of the Congregation, filled with memoirs of St. Leonard, Fr. Reffo and Fr. Costantino and the other Josephites of the first times.
The visit starts from the entrance atrium, overlooked by the bust of Fr. Cocchi, founder of the college. A wooden alms box was placed in this atrium. Benefactors who wished to remain anonymous could deposit their donations there. It is still visible in the exhibit-museum on the first floor.
The arcade facing the courtyard offers an idea of how the boarding school was at the time of Murialdo: the only wing built at the time was that facing Corso Palestro (the street). Along the other sides of the courtyard were sheds or other simple buildings used for storage or sometimes as workshops.
The marble busts of Murialdo, of Fr. Reffo and of Fr. Costantino are over the great iron doors, built in the ironworks shop of the school. Important renovation work (1998-2000) has allowed for the transformation of the first floor (second floor USA) into an exhibit-museum on the life and figure of St. Leonard Murialdo.
The Chapel of St. Joseph, in which St. Leonard founded the Congregation of St. Joseph on March 19, 1873, is found on the second floor (third floor USA). At first the house had a single, long and narrow chapel, on the second floor (3rd USA), its windows opening on the courtyard. It was named after Our Lady the Immaculate and had its sacristy. In a third room, a “rear-sacristy”, in 1867 started to meet Murialdo and other of his collaborators, with the idea of forming a group of people taking Saint Joseph as their patron and model in their educative commitment towards youth. The rector – as already mentioned – Fr. Costantino, Fr. Reffo, some young clerics and some already grown-up students who were also teaching the younger ones belonged to that group. There was also Berizzi, by now on the point of leaving.
That group formed a kind of “confraternity” that later would turn into the Congregation of Saint Joseph. The room where they gathered for the weekly meetings and some moments of prayer in the occasion of special solemnities was transformed into a little chapel, dedicated to Saint Joseph and later enlarged. This is, then, the chapel where the foundation of the Congregation of Saint Joseph took place on March 19, 1873. The first Josephites were Murialdo himself, Fr. Julius Costantino, Fr. Eugene Reffo, Fr. Sebastian Mussetti, and the seminarians Marcel Pagliero and Peter Joseph Milanese. They pronounced the religious vows for the first time and so formally started the congregation. Two other young clerics began the Novitiate: Ernest Canfari and Natale Leone.
The chapel, true heart of the young congregation, was later enlarged and better decorated with works of painting and carving, splendid testimony to the artistic level to which the school of painting, sculpture and cabinetry in the Collegio Artigianelli had risen. In 1875 the chapel. The decoration of the vaulted ceiling followed. This was the work of the Josephite lay brother John Massoglia, using the design by Henry Reffo. Massoglia painted the angels which hold up the seal of the Congregation, the veils of the lunettes and the entire decoration of the vault.was enlarged, including the sacristy
The lunettes were supposed to contain representations of great personages of the bible, as if reproducing the journey of the history of salvation, until the one who, closing the Old Testament, saw the New One opening: Saint Joseph, holding in his arms the Child Jesus, light of the peoples and fulfilment of mankind’s hopes. Massoglia only was able to complete two of them, the one of Adam and that of Abel. The rest were completed by Peter Favaro in 1973 on the occasion of the centennial of the Congregation. In order to guess the personages Reffo had planned and Massoglia could not paint it was necessary to trace some sketches of Reffo himself and above all study the symbolic themes of the veils, already frescoed, above the lunettes. In facts it was understood that the lunettes were supposed to contain personages to whom was alluded in the veils, as it is evident from the existing parallelism in the parts Massoglia frescoed (Adam and Abel).
An oval painting of St. Joseph hung over the altar at first; today it is kept in Rome at the General House of the Josephites. The present altar-piece with St. Joseph upon a throne is also by Reffo. It went up in 1892 and was completed in 1894, as appears in the date which Reffo himself put on it.
The altar is a very fine work of carving and inlaying. The design is from Henry Reffo. The realization of the plans, the work of Massoglia and his students, lasted from 1875 until 1894. The predella, completed in 1879, is a mosaic in a back-ground of walnut with inlays of more than thirty types of precious wood. It was presented, admired and awarded grand prize at the National Exposition of Turin in 1884. In short they wanted that the predella, the altar and the great frame supporting the canopy were of wood and would be a monument of art and love of the Artigianelli for the carpenter of Nazareth.
The artistic stained-glass windows by the painter Peter Dalle Ceste were also made on the occasion of the centennial of the Congregation in 1973.They show the founding of the Congregation, the apostolate of Murialdo among youth and the heraldic emblems of Murialdo and of the Congregation (in the sacristy).
In what today is the sacristy and at Murialdo’s times was the “presbytery” of the Immaculate Conception chapel, it has been placed again, exactly at its original site, the altar at which so many times Murialdo, Fr. Reffo and Fr. Costantino celebrated the Mass for their boys. At the other side of the room a big cabinet made by the carpentry shop of the boarding school makes a fine show. It received a prize at the International Exhibition held at Turin in 1911.
Returning to the first (second) floor, one can visit the wing along Via Juvarra, built beginning in 1910. Here is found the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, designed by the confrere John Massoglia. The marble altar, also by Massoglia, was inaugurated June 1st, 1916 in celebration of Fr. Reffo’s fiftieth anniversary of priestly ordination. The altar-piece, which portrays the Immaculate Conception, was painted by Henry Reffo in 1915. It was also Massoglia who conceived the collocation of the painting in a “magnificent Bramante-style little temple, all in carved wood, with very fine and gilded friezes, rich in columns and pilasters which are also finely carved” (Eugenio Reffo).
At each side of the presbytery are placed statues of the Sacred Heart and of St. Joseph, the work of the sculptor Anacleto Barbieri, of the School of Reffo (1929).
Approaching the exit, one notices the organ, the construction of which was promoted by Fr. Joseph Anfossi, alumnus, priest, choral teacher at the Collegio Artigianelli, composer and organist. It was Fr. Anfossi himself who inaugurated the organ in 1917.
At the back of the church, on the left, a column holds the bust of Fr. Cocchi, founder of the boarding school. His remains, exhumed from the General Cemetery of Turin, were placed here May 13, 1917.
The floor beneath the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception is occupied by the theatre named after Fr. Cocchi and inaugurated in 1913 on the occasion of the centennial of his birth.
The Fiaschi Company has produced many performances which made renowned the theatrical tradition of the Artigianelli, thanks above all to the comedies and one act plays written by Fr. Eugene Reffo and to the sets painted by his brother, the painter Henry.
Leaving the Artigianelli, cross corso (boulevard) Palestro and walk down via Bertola. At the corner with via Assarotti there is the St. Barbara Church (1867).