The centre aims at documenting both ancient and modern devotion and worship of the christian, mainly catholic population. At this point, it would be useful, with the words of Paul VI, to present a ever vibrant and functional aspect of the church which is now the subject of great interest: POPULAR RELIGIOUSNESS OR PIETY.
The CSDM is located in the Sanctuary’s Crypt, or rather the area dug out of the Basilica’s foundations. It is an area with varying height, covering two architectonically valuable surfaces punctuated with niches and columns. The locations variety is caused in part by a calculation error in the planning of the Shrine’s foundations. In fact, due to the geological nature of the land, it was necessary to go deeper than foreseen during the excavation of the foundations.
The centre is currently organised into four basic areas:
1 – Permanent exhibition, that needs some reorganisation due to the vast amount of material that has poured in over the last decade;
2 – A study “area” including the library and several collections of material that can be consulted by scholars and enthusiasts, subject to notice;
3 – The Warehouses not open to the public, where objects of every type (statues, devotional articles…), some of notable artistic and historical value, are kept not having found space in the exhibition area.
4 – The Crypt of the Sanctuary, with large space used for temporary exhibitions. Along the stairs that lead to the exhibition halls, the visitor can notice ex-voto paintings hanging of the walls. These are the only votive paintings in theChurch Mary Help of Christians. There remains only one oil ex-voto on tin dating from the period in which Don Bosco lived. Some of the ex-voto on display were not however donated directly to this Sanctuary, but are from unknown sources. They were acquired from second-hand dealers and offered to the centre by people who have remained anonymous.
THE PERMANENT DISPLAY
1. Mary and the devotion of the people:
Gathers everything which refers to the life of Mary and Christ, starting from the Nativity (both of Christ and the Virgin) and ending at the foot of the Cross. Of particular interest are certain representations of birthplaces from around the world, images of the Virgin in clay, ceramic, wood and even…stamps. In an ideal location one can view the painting of the Immaculate commissioned by Don Bosco in 1882 by Giuseppe Rollini, the painter who would later alfresco the cupola of the Basilica of Mary, Our Lady Help of Christians.
Also of particular value, are the relics which display the Virgin Grieving and the Passion in general, and particularly the Holy Shroud: there is even the Holy Nail, authenticated by the Abbot of the Holy Cross Basilica of Rome in Jerusalem; grouped in specific glass cases are all the major images of the Virgin from every part of the world and of the most important apparitions including the Virgin of Pilar, Lourdes, The Salette, Fatima and of Guadeloupe. One display case encloses a large variety of rosaries, used in the past by diverse religious families. This display even includes a rosary crown worn by Don Bosco.
2. Mary Our Help and Don Bosco:
One can admire the first picture and sketch of the painting of Mary Our Lady Help of Christians presented to Don Bosco by the painter Lorenzone. On the front wall is a gigantic photograph of the same painting including the names of all the Apostles which surround the Virgin, and the saints. The statues of the saints decorate the border of this painting. Also shown are the large canvases of E. Reffo, depicting San Francesco di Sales from 1896 and those of P. G. Crida from 1995, depicting Saint Domenic Savio praying in front of a statue of the Immaculate which was greatly admired by Don Bosco and Mother Margherita.
The cases enclose other precious mementos like the Monstrance which was given as a gift by San Giuseppe Cafasso to Don Bosco in 1858 for the Church of San Francesco de Sales. The miracle cup of bilocation in France of Don Bosco which occurred on October 14th, 1878; the canvas of Mary Our Lady Help of Christians with Chinese features, painted in Peking by the Salesian Father Mario Acquistapace. Displayed on the tables, one can see photocopies of projects for the construction of the Basilica of Mary Our Lady Help of Christians presented by Don Bosco to the City Hall of Torino in in the 1860’s.
Also attracting the curiosity of visitors is a small model of the Basilica of Mary Our Lady Help of Christians, built to scale with over 14,300 matches by Franco Aloardi of Treviglio (BG); next to this is a nicely displayed model of the house where Don Bosco was born in Becchi, built perfectly to scale with real bricks by Rapolla Michele from Venosa (PZ).
3. Mary Our Help around the world:
Testimonials to the devotion of Mary are gathered from different parts of the world where the Salesians work. Invaluable and possibly the oldest of its kind are two documents written in 1659 listing, on one, the names and declarations of death of the faithful and on the other, the declaration of renunciation of faith during the persecution in Japan during this same time period. Next to this document one can admire a great Samurai sword, and some sculptures constructed out of tree roots, portraying ancestors from the 17th century.
A display case contains the memoirs and some specific objects that belong to the first two Salesian martyrs in China – Mons. Luigi Versiglia and Father Callisto Caravario, together with a statue of Mary Our Lady Help of Christians donated by Father Egidio Viganò from his trip to China in 1987 by a Chinese bishop faithful to the Roman Catholic Church. One can also see many images of the Madonna, differing in workmanship and in the use of various and diverse materials, from Palestine, India, the Philippines, Latin America and Africa.