Via delle Orfane, 3 – Torino
St. Dalmatius, the parish church of the Murialdo family, was built in 1530 on the site of an earlier medieval church. It was restored and improved several times during the 1700s and 1800s. Still now it is entrusted to the pastoral care of the Barnabite Fathers.
Murialdo was always very fond of his parish. This is how he recalls it in his Spiritual Testament – almost in the form of a prayer.
“I enter your temple, oh my God! What a feeling of peace and love. In fact, everything here speaks to me of love, … of that love which you have had, which you still have for me, and of that love which I owe you”.
Just inside, to the right, is the baptismal font where Leonard was baptized the evening of October 27, 1828. A plaque records the event. “Look, the sacred font where your love gave me innocence and adopted me as your son through holy baptism”.
It is probable that the custom of the well-off families was followed for Nadino too. The baby was brought at the church by coach, where sat his father, godfather, godmother, the midwife carrying the baby in her arms, and a boy with his arm out of the door and a not burning torch in his hand. Coming back it was the same, but with the torch burning, meaning the grace of God that had went within that heart and the faith gifted to him.
Continuing along the right nave, Murialdo remembers the confessional where he made his first confession and above all the confession which brought him back to God (September 1843) after the crisis he experienced during his last school year in Savona. Again in his Spiritual Testament Murialdo writes:
“I advance a few steps and I see the sacred tribunal where as a little boy you gave me back for a first time purity and peace of heart through your minister, Abbot Pullini. But above all in 1843, upon my return from boarding school in Savona, a real prodigal son guilty of a thousand sins, I went to confess: «Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you». At that time you opened your paternal heart to my prayer, you heard my prayer, and again took possession of a soul destined to be your temple, but which had been for a long time a devil’s den. Oh! How real your infinite mercy became for me at that time!”
Murialdo went to St. Dalmatius weekly or even more often for his usual confession. When the abbot Pullini died (1859), he chose as his confessor a Barnabite of the community, Father Paul Stub, from Norway. When the latter went back to his country (1864), Leonard began to confess with Fr. William Blengio, who died in 1895. From that year Murialdo will go to confess at St. Barbara church, with canon Colombero.
Murialdo still continues to describe us “his” church: “A little farther ahead is the sacred pulpit. It was in front of that pulpit that you gave me the first inklings of a call to the religious life. Fear of hell and peer pressure, which at school had dragged me along the path of eternal damnation, were the chains by which you drew me to yourself. I thought that if I were far away from the world, I would not shy away from you because of peer pressure. My first idea was to become a Capuchin, but Canon Renaldi discouraged me from that. He suggested that I embrace the priestly life where I would not have to fear peer pressure any more than with the Capuchins.
That sermon which spoke of eternity and of hell was delivered by the Capuchin Vincent Oliva, from Nice on the sea, who was giving Lent sermons in 1844 in St. Dalmatius Church. It was the beginning of St. Leonard Murialdo’s vocation, first priestly and then religious.
The pulpit, in its present form, came out of the major remodelling which began in 1885 and ended at the beginning of 1900 and which radically changed St. Dalmatius Church. Fr. Philip Montuoro, the parish priest, had been the promoter of the renovation of the church in a style inspired by the Middle Age artist Arnolfo di Cambio.
There is another “Murialdine” place in this church – the Chapel of Our Lady of Loreto, left of the main altar. It is a place which reminded Murialdo of a dramatic period in his life from a psychological viewpoint, after his decision to become a priest. In order to be faithful to the road he had just begun, Leonard had intensified his spiritual and ascetic commitment, whilesense of guilt for the sins done and even more for having “abandoned God” during his youthful crisis in Savona boarding school was growing. The spiritual books of those times, all centred on death, eternity and fear of hell added on to cause him a state of anxiety and anguish. He feared to fall in a serious and irreversible nervous breakdown. Recourse to Mary brought him rescue.
Probably the “Farther ahead, on the left, is the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin of Loreto, of this Mother which your love has given me, the […] Mother of beautiful love and of holy hope. Here my good Mother freed me from a very heavy cross. She freed me shortly after I took recourse in her, remembering that no one who ever sought her intercession was left unaided. The grace whichshe gave me, for which I will always be thankful, is this: I was afraid of becoming crazy, and if she had not freed me, perhaps I would be so today. I will sing forever of the mercy of Mary”.
In these words there is one of the main reasons nurturing the Marian devotion of Murialdo: love and gratitude to Mary because through her God fills us with all his benefits.
The Chapel of Our Lady of Loreto is also part of perhaps the most beautiful memory of the life of St. Leonard: his first Mass. “On September 21, 1851, the feast of St. Matthew, in the Church of St. Dalmatius, I had the glory and the joy to celebrate my first Mass. I was assisted by Abbot Pullini and, I believe, by Canon Renaldi. Ah! How happy I was! But my mother was not among the relatives gathered around me! She had gone to heaven on July 9, 1849”.
“On that happy day, my God, you gave me the grace of complete abandonment to you. I was separated from the pleasures of the world, I was all yours!” And again: “From then on, I always had a certain devotion to St Matthew. I liked to think that also he had been a sinner, and that he had been converted by the same Jesus Christ who had seen fit to call also me to the apostolate”.
Whenever he could, Murialdo commemorated the anniversary of his first Mass by returning to this chapel to celebrate at the same altar and with the same vestments from 1851.
In this chapel is noteworthy a sketch (1899) of Henry Reffo, representing Eve. It is a preliminary study for the glass lunette of the left transept. Leaving the chapel, in the hallway which leads back into the church, is found a painting by Peter Favaro from 1978, which shows Murialdo before Our Lady of Loreto.
Returning to the centre of the church, one can admire the walls of the transept and of the centre nave. They are decorated in encaustic on a gold base by Henry Reffo representing a long list of saints, men and women, which gather around the presbytery.
The right altar in the transept, dedicated to St. Paul, is embellished with paintings by Reffo which portray the apostle, St. Charles Borromeo and St. Francis de Sales and other saints. St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria, founder of the Barnabites, custodians of the church, is shown in surplice and stole, kneeling and pointing towards the Eucharist. The four evangelists in the glass lunette above the altar and in general the whole decoration of the church are also from Reffo and his school.
Reffo left his self-portrait in the left transept, among the “Sancti discipuli Domini” (Holy disciples of the Lord): he is the third from the right; his figure appears above the head of the man who is bowing and has a bare torso.
Close to the exit in the left nave (right for one leaving) is to be noted the last altar, dedicated to the Sacred Heart. The painting is by Reffo (1881) and the railing was made by the blacksmiths of the Collegio Artigianelli, who put the signature: “Collegio Artigianelli, Torino1882”.
Immediately after, attached to the wall, one encounters the bust of the painter Reffo.
Once out from St. Dalmatius church, turn left in via delle Orfane. We are in the heart of the old Turin, with narrow streets, but geometrically laid onto the road network of the Roman town. At the third junction, on the left and at the corner with via Santa Chiara (Clare), one encounters the Church and the convent of St. Clare.