... means starting quietly dialoguing with the hill and admiring from the small square (a real balcony on Turin) the start of its valleys and the festive choir of the great Alps, hundreds of kilometres of Alpine ranges that reveal their beauty on windswept mornings when the sun rises over the hilly scenario of Superga.
A small and typical funicular railway built for the 1884 Universal Exhibition connected the underlying square in Corso Moncalieri to the small square in front of the church until the outbreak of World War II. Today's traffic congestion would certainly make a new funicular railway or a lift more than useful!
The Church of Saint Mary of the Hill, a convent and the National Mountain Museum are located on the hilltop. In 1958, a piece of wrought iron fencing from the Lourdes grotto was placed on the right of the small square facing Turin, a donation made to a group of Turin worker pilgrims, who also added a bronze statue of the Holy Mother in 1960.
The historical headquarters of the Italian Alpine Club is below the Museum.
The story of this small Turinese hill is very ancient and interesting. Diggings have revealed fossil sea shells and other findings that lead experts to believe the area had been a seabed many thousands of years ago. It was the area of pre-Roman and pagan cults. A small fortified complex (called Bastia) was erected here during the 11th Century with towers and lookouts for defending the underlying wooden bridge over the river Po with an apparently corresponding fortress called Rocca (whence perhaps the name of today's Via della Rocca) inside the town.
The convent was built close to an old chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mother.
This strategic point was occupied on several occasions during the 17th and 19th Centuries by French, Spanish and Austrian-Russian troops who established headquarters and artillery positions during the various wars and sieges the area was the theatre for.
In 1581 Duke Carlo Emanuele I acquired the Bastia from the Scaravelli family and assigned it to the Capuchin Franciscan monks for them to erect a church dedicated to Saint Maurice there. The designer assigned was Architect Giacomo Soldati. Works started straight away but were soon suspended for various reasons. They resumed in 1610 under the direction of Architect Ascanio Vitozzi and the name of church was changed into that of Saint Mary of the Hill. At Vitozzi's death, works continued sporadically under the direction of Carlo di Castellamonte. The church was finally dedicated in 1656.
The building is simple and harmonic with a square and octagonal drum base; the inside is richly decorated and contains a beautiful altar by Carlo di Castellamonte with a marble throne by Benedetto Alfieri above the precious tabernacle. The paintings by Guglielmo Caccia called Moncalvo and a copy of the Holy Mother with San Francis by Giovan Battista Crespi called the Cerano (the original being at the Turin Galleria Sabauda) and some wooden statues by Stefano Clemente are quite remarkable.
is tied to the remembrance of the brethren of the plague, who wrote heroic pages during the recurrent epidemics, especially in 1630 when Turin was decimated by the contagion. It is also remembered for the siege of 1640, when the French troops massacred over 400 defenceless persons who had sought refuge there as well as the Eucharistic miracle illustrated by a rather naive painting.
The Monte dei Cappuccini complex, also renowned for the contributions made by the brothers known for their saintly life and intelligent apostolic behaviour, such as 18th Century Father Ignatius of Santhià and Cardinal Gugliemo Massaja, has never been illustrated adequately. Connoisseurs of Turin's culture and history still have several open issues, such as what happened to the thousand year old Chapel of Saint Mary of the Hill? What did the 13th Century Bastia look like? These and other similar question are close to being answered thanks to diggings and careful investigation and will be included in a book due to be published soon. This will open up moments and aspects of the history of Turin, the House of Savoy and the Franciscan monks that will write hitherto unknown pages on the Hill.
Two lucky findings are typical of the great and demanding restoration work being completed on the Church of Saint Mary of the Monte dei Cappuccini.
During the 1989 works for restoring and consolidating the façade after completion of its cleanup operations, a walled door was found. After it was reopened, it was discovered that it led to a small unsuspected room. A wooden bier in very poor conditions was found in a grave dug in the uneven floor. It contained a skeleton that was at first thought to be the remains of Father Cherubino Fournier of Maurienne, who had died at 44 years of age in this convent in 1609. The traces of the burial of this humble Capuchin monk, a brotherly friend of Saint Francis of Sales, a trusted counsellor of Duke Carlo Emanuele I and the inspirer of Pope Paul V for the creation of the Sacred Propaganda Fidei Congregation, had been lost in 1630, when the Black Death swept Piedmont and many other parts of the world. The case for his beatification had been suspended sine die, in the absence of his body. Now that it has been unearthed, will he be elevated to the honours of the altar?
The life and story of another personage found at the Monte dei Cappuccini are quite different, though the discovery was just as accidental.
Having to arrange the ashes of old monks buried in the Convent's crypt, the decision was made to create a grave in the garden. A perfectly preserved skeleton buried at some 80 centimetres depth was unearthed to the workers' great astonishment. Some nails around the body led the finders to postulate the existence of a completely destroyed bier. Who could have been buried in the brothers' garden? Certainly not a Capuchin monk, since the brothers' cemetery was inside the crypt nor even just anybody, since the unknown's last place of rest was such a famous Convent. Two extraordinary objects were found together with the skeleton: two white ceramic pipe bowls, a very simple one and another much more valuable one. They were 17th Century pipes and the first idea was that it must have been a famous 17th Century personage, such a devout frequenter of the Capuchin Convent as to wish his burial place to be the sacred hermitage: Filippo Giuseppe d'Agliè of San Germano, more simply known as the Count of Agliè.
Born at Turin in 1604, Filippo d'Agliè was a French Maréchal de Champ, Captain of His Majesty's Guards, State Minister, General Finance Superintendent , General Marshall of the Army, Great Master of the House, Cavalier of the Supreme Order of the Holy Nunziata and so on.
He had not become famous for all these high duties but for a tender love story with the widow of Duke Vittorio Amedeo I, Duchess Christine of France, the first Madama Reale.
Among the struggles between Madama's and the Prince's supporters during the difficult regency held by Madama Reale from 1637 and 1648 on behalf of young Duke Carlo Emanuele II, Filippo d'Agliè even stood up to Cardinal Richelieu who imprisoned him in the Castle of Vincennes in France for two years. The Count, famous for his exquisite artistic qualities, a good musician, excellent 'cellist and a genial choreographer, wrote and directed many ballets for the Turin Court, the most famous of which being Il Tabacco staged in 1650. This may explain why the two pipes were found together with his remains.
Count Filippo d'Agliè's will asked that he be buried humbly in the Monte dei Cappuccini convent. He died at the Turin Royal Palace in 1667.