St Joseph’s Altar is big and very beautiful. It is the only altar in the Church of Mary Help of Christians, Valdocco (Turin), still the same way as Don Bosco designed it, even after the 1934-1938 work on the Basilica.
The central picture is by the artist Lorenzone (the same one who did the picture above the main altar), following Don Bosco’s precise indications.
St Joseph is shown with the Child Jesus in his arms. Mary is beside them, hands joined, showing motherly approval.
An important detail: the Child Jesus is giving St Joseph roses, and the Saint lets them drop on the Church of Mary Help of Christians and the Valdocco Oratory as it was in 1869. Explaining the picture on the day of its inauguration, Don Bosco said:
“The white and red roses are the graces God gives us: even the red roses, accompanied by pain, suffering and sacrifices, come from God, and they are the best”.
SAINT JOHN BOSCO
In the Church he built to honour Mary Help of Christians, Don Bosco is himself commemorated by an altar that is the work of the architect Mario Ceradini. The artistic splendour of its lines and the harmonious blend of its marbles make it a veritable monument.
The altar rails and steps are of yellow Siena marble. On either side there are statues by Nori, one of a chalice and host, the other of a flaming heart, symbols of faith and charity. Four red columns by Garessio frame P.G. Crida’s picture of Don Bosco surrounded by a group of youngsters as he invites them to look to Mary with trust. The stained glass windows behind the shrine depict important episodes in his life at Valdocco. The one on the left shows Don Bosco and Mamma Margaret arriving at the Pinardi House (3 November1846).
The bronze URN holds Don Bosco’s remains. The vestments were a gift from Pope Benedict XV. This altar is one of the major attractions in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians. Numerous pilgrims and ordinary people pause in reflection or silent prayer before the Urn of Don Bosco – parents recommending their sons and daughters to the great Saint of Youth, past pupils, young people, older people, people starting out in life who come to recommend their present and future to their Patron Saint.
SAINT MARY D. MAZZARELLO
Today, on the right, near the main entrance, there is the chapel of St Mary Domenica Mazzarello (1837-1881), Co-foundress with Don Bosco of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (FMA, also called the Salesian Sisters). Mary Domenica was an extraordinary woman, intelligent, gifted with common sense and creativity. She was a deeply pious person. She lived continually in God’s presence and was committed to helping her companions.
In 1864 she met Don Bosco who foresaw in her the first Daughter of Mary Help of Christians and the means to ensure the work of education would be carried out for girls as well. Mary Domenica became a Sister so that, like Don Bosco and with him, she might serve God and his Church in the world of her day and be attentive to the needs of girls, especially those who were poor. Speaking to Religious women in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians during his visit to Turin-Valdocco on 13 December 1980, Pope John Paul II said of her:
“Saint Mary Domenica Mazzarello… spoke of holy matters in such a clear and persuasive way she seemed inspired by the Holy Spirit. Her life of dedication to God was humble, mortified and serene. This was the way she showed her ‘motherly love’ for thousands of girls”.
Maria Domenica died at Nizza 14 May 1881. Her remains were brought to Torino-Valdocco in 1938 and placed in a bronze urn beneath the altar that was erected for her beatification. The figure of the Saint in the main picture and the other paintings were done by the artist Crida.
SAINT DOMINIC SAVIO (1842-1857)
Originally this chapel was dedicated to St Francis de Sales. Today it honours St Dominic Savio, the fourteen-year-old canonised pupil of Don Bosco. Dominic was with him only three years. He was very bright at studies and was a lovely youngster. His motto was:
“Death rather than sin”.
He used to say: “Dominic means ‘belonging to the Lord’, so I must and want to be all the Lord’s. I want to become a saint and I won’t be happy until I become a saint”.
The secret of his holiness (which reached maturity under Don Bosco’s guidance) was simple: a great love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, great devotion to Our Lady, being committed in a practical way to helping his peers become better and … an open contagious cheerfulness that made him friends with everyone. “Holiness and joy” characterise his way of holiness. On one occasion he told a companion: “You know here we make holiness consist in being very cheerful. The only thing we try to avoid is sin; it’s enemy no.1 and it robs us of God’s grace and peace of heart. We try to be exact in our duties and we go regularly to church”. He died in 1857, almost 15 years old. He was declared a saint 12 June 1954.
He is the youngest non-martyr saint in the Church. The painting by artist Mario Caffaro Rore portrays Dominic in the act of coming out the door of Don Bosco’s Oratory to meet his friends, big and small. The urn under the altar table contains the relics of this boy saint.