Chapel of the Relics (the Crypt)
When you enter the Basilica by the main door, on the right-hand side you will find a stairway leading to the Crypt or “Chapel of the Relics”. It has one nave and is shaped like a Latin cross. The ornamental motifs and symbols recall the Christian catacombs. Numerous relics of martyrs and saints are preserved in the chapel.
Its centrepiece is the relic of the Wood of the Cross, conserved in a container with an alabaster background. Important in its own way is the little chapel dedicated to Our Lady, and commonly called the “Chapel of the Apparition” on account of the 1845 dream related by Don Bosco: I seemed to be in a vast meadow with a huge crowd of boys. I saw a Lady beside me. She told me: “In this place, where the glorious martyrs of Turin, Adventor and Octavius, suffered martyrdom, on those clods soaked and sanctified by their blood,I wish that God be honored in a very special manner.” So saying, she put our her foot and pointed to the exact spot where the martyrs had fallen”. The spot is indicated, on the floor, by a golden cross.
Two altars contain the mortal remains of Blessed Michael Rua, Don Bosco’s first successor, and of Blessed Philip Rinaldi, Don Bosco’s third successor.
BLESSED MICHAEL RUA (1837-1910)
Michael Rua was born very near Torino-Valdocco. He was eight years old when he met Don Bosco and asked him for a holy picture. The saint made a sign that looked like he was cutting something in half. As he did so, he told the child:
“Take it, Michael, take it: the two of us will always go halves.”He was right in his prediction: Don Rua would be his most faithful collaborator and his first successor in guiding the Salesians. He was a tireless worker and the genial organiser of the young Salesian Society. Don Bosco said of him:
“If I had ten Don Ruas I would conquer the world. DON RUA, IF HE WANTED, COULD PERFORM MIRACLES. If I wanted to single out any point where he was not absolutely perfect in virtue, I would be stuck, because I could not find any.”
He was a great worker and a great saint, exactly like Don Bosco. He was declared Blessed by Paul VI on 29 October 1972.
BLESSED PHILIP RINALDI (1856-1931)
He was Don Bosco’s third successor in guiding the Salesian Society. Like Don Rua, Philip knew Don Bosco from childhood. But he only surrendered himself to him when he was 21 years old. Don Rinaldi is considered the real founder of Salesian work in Spain and Portugal. He was the genial (for those days) founder of the flourishing VDB Secular Institute, the Women Volunteers of Don Bosco. A deeply prayerful man, with a rich inner life and a son’s devotion to Mary Help of Christians, he was declared Blessed by John Paul II on 29 April 1990. He wrote this spiritual note to his VDB Daughters:
“What must you do to have life? Before all else, the first thing you have to do is pray for courage every day to carry the cross the Lord has assigned you. Then let each of you do your own work really well, the work proper to your state, as God wants it, and according to your condition, which means according to the spirit of the Lord and of Don Bosco”.
The Crypt also contains objects that belonged to the first Salesian martyrs Mgr Luigi Versiglia and Fr Callisto Caravario, both of whom were pupils in the Mother House at Torino-Valdocco.
The First Salesian Martyrs: Mons. A. VERSIGLIA & Fr C. CARAVARIO
Aloysius Versiglia was born at Oliva Gessi (Pavia, Italy) in 1873. At the age of 12 he went to study at Turin-Valdocco – on condition he didn’t become a priest! But God’s grace, the thoroughly religious atmosphere, the enthusiasm for the missions and of course the charm and sanctity of Don Bosco, by now in his last years, transformed the boy’s soul. One day he heard the Saint of Youth say, “Come and see me; I’ve something to say to you”. The meeting never took place owing to Don Bosco’s death, but he’d been won over all the same and so after his studies he asked simply ‘to stay with Don Bosco’, fostering in his heart the secret hope of one day setting out as a missionary. He studied philosophy and theology in Rome, but all the while he gave an important pastoral service in the Sacred Heart Oratory near the city’s main railway station Stazione Termini. He became a teacher and novices’ assistant at Foglizzo near Turin. He was always an effective ‘shaper’ of personalities, loving and a good friend to all. At the age of thirty three he went to China as leader of a small group of Salesians. In 1920 he was consecrated bishop and appointed Vicar Apostolic of Schiu Chow.
In 1929 Bishop Versiglia ordained Callistus Caravario as a Salesian priest at Schiu Chow. He had been born at Cuorgnè near Turin and he, too, had studied at Turin-Valdocco. There in 1922 he had met the bishop and promised him, “I’ll follow you to China”. And so he did…. On 23rd February 1930 they set out together on a long apostolic journey. But two days later they met their deaths together at the hands of communist bandits.
They were killed because they were Catholic missionaries who were preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and also because they had protected some young female catechists travelling with them, whom the bandits wanted to carry into slavery. These two Salesian martyrs died not only for their faith in Christ, but also for defending human dignity. Pope John Paul II declared them saints in Rome on 1st October 2000, the Jubilee Year. Their Feast is celebrated on 13th November.