The facade of this 17th C church is deceptive, there is no obvious church door entrance. This was to maintain the architectural uniformity of Piazza Castello. San Lorenzo is next to the gates of the Palazzo Reale and its cupola is easy to see from the middle of the square.
Building began in 1666 and it was inaugurated on 12 May 1680, not long for such a complicated structure.
Inside the play on light is obtained from the unique design. The architect, Guarino Guarini, was a Theatiner priest, who was also an astrologer, theologian, mathematician and researcher who saw architecture as religious tension towards the divine and believed that creative technique could be the means of creating wonder and arousing amazement.
The boldness of the construction shows his genius: during World War II a bomb landed in the middle of the palace next to the church, now the palace of the Regione; despite the violent impact, the structure did not suffer any damage.
Guarini's intention was to show a symbolic, vertical ascent towards light, articulated in levels.
The lower part of the church is dark, there are no windows and it is the only frescoed part: it represents humanity's eartly life.
We find the first light at the level of the four loggias which can be related to the four elements. Looking up from the tambour the cupola becomes more and more luminous: we are going towards the light of the Supernatural, the Absolute. The architectural plan of the church is based on the octagon and if we look up at the cupola we see arches criss-crossing forming a flower of light with eight petals. It is an amazing sight, all the more so if we can come at spring and autumn equinox, when - and only then - are the four paintings illuminated by the sun's rays striking them in their recessed niches for a few minutes around midday. Guarini was a genius to have worked that out!
There are eight chapels and a fine carved pulpit, besides numerous paintings and sculptures. A facsmile of the Turin shroud is displayed in a side room to the the rear, right hand side of the church. When it was first brought by Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy from Chambéry it was displayed on the altar of the previous chapel of San Lorenzo. It is now housed in the Capella della Sindone, also designed by Guarino Guarini. Because repair work is still being undertaken after the fire, it is still not possible to view it, unfortunately.
Outside Italy, Guarino Guarini is not so well known. He built a church also in Paris and in Prague, and one in Messina which was destroyed by earthquake.
Turin is particularly fortunate in having such fine examples of his work and they are well worth seeing. Palazzo Carignano is five minutes' walk away, and the church of the Immacolata further towards Porta Susa.
There is a brochure/guide available in Italian, but supplies of the English one had run out!
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