The facade recalls that of the church of St Giorgio Maggiore at Venice, built by Palladio. The archangel Gabriel is depicted on the right bell-tower offering Mary a crown; on the left bell-tower, the Archangel Michael waves a banner on which is written, “Lepanto”. On the gable, the marble statues are of the martyrs, Solutor, Avventor and Octavius killed on this land (Valdocco = Vallis occisorum).
On top of the attic, above the clocks, one can see on the right, the statue of St Massimo, the first bishop of Turin, and on the left, the statue of St Francis of Sales, patron of the Salesian family. In the central niche, under the rose window, there is the marble representation of Jesus among the young boys; the side niches hold the statues of St Joseph and St Luigi Gonzaga.
There are two fascia in relief between the columns, one representing St. Pius V announcingthe victory at Lepanto (1571), the other depicting Pius VII crowning the Most Holy Mary in the sanctuary of Savona (Italy) after his liberation from Napoleonic imprisonment (1814).
The Basilica of Mary Help of Christians was born in the heart and courage of Don Bosco and his tremendous devotion to our Lady.
This was an endeavour that was marked by extraordinary events and enormous difficulties. Don Bosco was never tired of repeating that it was Our Lady who wanted the church and that she herself, after having even marked the spot where it was to rise, would have also provided the way to find the means necessary.
But let’s listen to Don Bosco himself describe one of the “dreams” he had in 1844 when he was still searching for a permanent location for his Oratory.The Lady appeared to him saying: “Look. And looking I saw a small low church, a bit of courtyard and a great number of young people. I resumed my work.”
But because this church was narrow, I ran to her again and she made me see another much bigger church with a house next to it. Then, leading me on a bit, still by my side, in a piece of cultivated land, almost in front of the façade of the second church, she added, “Here, where the glorious martyrs of Turin, Avventor, Solutor and Octavius offered their martyrdom, I want God to be honoured in a very special way.
So saying, she put out a foot resting it on the place where the martyrdom took place and marking it precisely… Meanwhile I saw myself surrounded by an immense and constantly growing number of young people; but looking at the Lady, there also grew the means and the building and I then saw an enormous church, on exactly the same spot where she had shown me the martyrdom of the saints of the Tebean Legion took place, surrounded by many buildings and with a beautiful monument in the middle”. (The monument in front of the shrine is there and is really dedicated to…him!).
Therefore, the stages were all foreseen – first “the small low church” or better, the Pinardi chapel, in 1846; then “the other much bigger church…” that is the church of St Francis of Sales, in 1852, and finally the church of Mary help of Christians with “inside a white fascia with, written in very large letters:
Hic domus mea, inde gloria mea. Here is my house, from here comes my glory.
The desire to not only spread the word of Mary and bear witness to her veneration and gratitude, after she had given so much proof of her benevolence to the fledgling congregation, but also give reason to pastoral order, spurred Don Bosco to push for its rapid construction. Meanwhile, the purchase of the field and wood for fencing meant the spending of 4,000 lire. The treasurer, Fr. Savio, left without money, advised waiting, but Don Bosco replied: “Start digging. When have we ever started something with the money already ready? You must always leave something for Divine Providence to do”. The work, entrusted to the master builder Carlo Buzzetti, began in the autumn of 1863. With the foundations dug, in April 1864, Don Bosco told Buzzetti: “I want to give you a down payment for the major work at once”. So saying, he withdrew a small bag, opened it and poured its contents into the hands of Buzzetti – eight soldi, not even half a lira.” Don’t worry “, Our Lady will provide the money necessary for Her church”.
Finally on 9th June, 1868, the solemn consecration took place. These were intensely moving moments for everybody, especially for Don Bosco. The dream had come true. The “marvellous high church” stood before the eyes of all, risen as if by a miracle.
Don Bosco took no credit, saying: “I am not responsible for the great things that you can see, It is the Lord and the Most Holy Mary who have deigned to help a poor priest carry out this work. I have contributed nothing. Aedificavit sibi domum Maria. Mary herself has built her own house. Every stone, every ornament marks a grace”. With the sanctuary built, Don Bosco increased his work in spreading devotion to the Madonna Ausiliatrice throughout the world, with the title of Help of Christians.