The Chapel of St. Peter
Between 1935 and 1938 the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians was renovated and enlarged. The Salesian superiors had been having this idea for many years and really wanted to give majesty and splendor to the Basilica, above all after waiting for many years Don Bosco’s canonization, which took place on April 1, 1934.
Therefore it came the need of a collocation of Don Bosco’s urn inside the Basilica. But exactly where?
If entering the shrine through the main entrance, on the right side, Don Bosco had already decided a side chapel to Saint Peter. It was characterized by a painting (4 meters high) with the apolostoles’ leader receiving the keys from Jesus. Don Bosco had the habit of celebrating the Holy Mass at this altar, wanting to underline his great love both for St. Peter and the Holy Father.
After don Bosco’s canonization it was decided to remove this side chapel and dedicate it to our Father of Youth, with a great monumental altar. There were two ideas at the same time to be put into practice: a new altar for don Bosco and the wish to keep the old important memories.
The Basilica had already been enlarged in the last few years and so, underneath the present sacristy, there was a new space. It soon became a chapel and was given the name of “St Peter’s chapel”. The altar of the first chapel was moved here.
The four marble columns that can be seen on the sides of the altar were the original ones that Michael Rua (don Bosco’s first successor) decided to put close to painting of Mary Help of Christians, as he wanted to underline the beauty of this piece of work. He made this between 1891 and 1893, the very first period of the restoration works which took place in the Basilica. Also the small marble arches were originally located around the Virgin’s painting, like if they were supporting Our Lady’s image.
For many years this new chapel was used for prayer and celebrations by the many Salesians living and working in the Mother House. But, with the passing of time, it was used for other purposes and then almost forgotten.
Due to the Great Jubilee (year 2000) and the exhibition of the Holy Shroud it was therefore decided to bring it back to the original beauty and, above all, underlining the awesome altar painting which had been hidden to public for almost 60 years.
On the evening of September 25, 2000, at the presence of the Salesian community of Valdocco and the provincial father Luigi Testa, the reopening to public and religious services took place. The celebration began with the prayer of the vespers and continued with the incensing of the altar.
The original altar, just for those interested in historical details, was consecrated on June 9, 1868 by monsignor Riccardi, on the same day of the consecration of the shrine.