Friday, April 28, 2023

St Rocco and his dog

This post is for all dog and animal lovers who also happen to appreciate art and architecture.

Today we are exploring the church of Saint Rocco near pedestrian Via Garibaldi, in Via San Francesco d'Assisi 1, clue number 1 about the life of this saint 😉

Like most Turin churches this is also a tiny baroque - read richly decorated - church dating back to 1663 when its construction started.

It has a baroque octagonal plan but its dome and tambour (the wall that supports a dome or that is surrounded by the colonnade) are still incomplete. 
The church is located between two buildings and it has a plain façade added in 1985, where there are two niches on the side: one for the statues of St Rocco and his dog Oreste and one for the statue of St Expedite, patron saint of the urgent causes, both added in 1924.

The domed vault has a large fresco where you can see the glorification of St Rocco; on the choir walls there is a large 18th century altarpiece portraying St Rocco preaching to the plague victims. Above the priest seats you can see a large baroque wood statue of St Rocco.
At each side of the entrance, there are two confessionals and two chapels whose columns look like they are made of marble but are actually made of painted wood. 

unfortunately some things were stolen

In the chapel on the right there is a statue of the Mary of the Graces - what remains of the old church of Mary of the Graces that was located right here besides another church before they were merged - and under the altar, you'll find the statue of St Aventin - patron saint of headaches and migraines (!)

The presbytery (where there is the altar) floor is a mosaic of large colorful marble slabs. The balustrade dates back to 1754 and in the apse niche there is the original statue of St Rocco that used to be located on the façade. The fresco on the vault shows some episodes of St Rocco's life.
The main altar is made of polychrome marbles and alabaster from Piedmont and it holds 4 baroque golden figurines of saints and silver and gold candelabra.
The sacristy has a large hickory closet that covers the whole wall and is carved with small columns, friezes and cherubs. In the corridor you can see the 1670 laver made of marble that was used during baptisms.

An interesting fact about this tiny old church is that over the centuries many people were buried here: aristocrats, intellectuals, wealthy people, merchants but also regular people, like a Parisian seamstress who had committed suicide in the Po River for unrequited love.

Following the mission of St Francis of Assisi and St Rocco, today this church is a reference point for all non-Italian Roman Catholic worshippers who live in Turin thanks to the services in English and French.  Different communities meet here regularly and keep this church alive.

If you can read Italian, you'll find more interesting facts and pictures here.

All animals can feel affection but since the dawn of the times when men lived in caves, dogs have been their loyalty and honest best friend. Therefore we feel it is important to remember the miraculous story of Saint Rocco and his dog, Oreste.

Since the Middle Ages St Rocco has been known as the patron saint and protector of the dogs and of the plague victims, so it doesn't come as a surprise that during the COVID19 pandemic he's been the most worshipped Saint in the whole world!

He is celebrated on August 16th and near Genoa, in Camogli on this day, every year, they award one special dog for his good deeds towards a human. 

St Rocco was born in Montpellier (France) around 1347 to the city governor and his wife; as this pregnancy happened after they had finally given up all their hopes, his birth was considered his first miracle. The second one was that the red cross engraved on his chest. 
He was raised and educated worshipping the Virgin Mary and to help those in need like soothing a crying orphan, feeding a poor hungry person and taking care of the sick. He was very devout to St Francis of Assisi and his nature and actions reminded people of him. 
He studied at the Montpellier university but at 20, when both his parents died, he decided to donate all his wealth to the needy ones and left for Rome on a pilgrimage.
In Tuscany,  in 1367-8 he helped all the victims of the plague he met on his way to Rome. In 1367 he arrived to Acquapendente, in the Viterbo area, near Rome. Here, following the call of an angel, Rocco blessed the plague victims by making the cross sign with his hand: as he touched the sick ones, each one of them was instantly healed and the pandemic was quickly over. 
When he finally made it to Rome, he even healed a cardinal thus impressing the pope. After living in Rome for 3 years, he healed all those he met on his way up back towards France and his fame grew fast.

Unfortunately, when he was in Piacenza healing the sick ones, he also caught the plague and found shelter in a cave or a hut out of town. 
Legend has it that as he didn't have any food or water, his conditions started to decline but Oreste, a Breton dog of the landlord whose the property St Rocco was living on, in isolation, stole some bread from his owner's table daily to feed him.
Curious to see where Oreste was going with the bread in his mouth everyday, one day the landlord followed him to St Rocco's shelter. 
Once he recovered, St Rocco continued his mission while that nobleman, the landlord was so impressed by St Rocco that he decided to follow his path: like him and St Francis, he donated everything he had to the poor and he became a pilgrim. 
All we know about this saint is actually thanks to this nobleman who became his first biographer.

St Rocco ended the plague pandemic in the Piacenza area and after healing all the humans, with the help of the local population, he went to the woods to heal all the animals. Then he took the way back to France but unfortunately, he was arrested and imprisoned near Voghera, by Pavia, because he refused to say who he was and the governor, his paternal uncle didn't recognize him nor believed what the people who had recognized him said.

He died alone, in prison, on August 15 or 16 between 1376 and 1379. A tablet was found by his body with these words engraved: 'whoever will call my name will be healed from the plague'

When his grandmother, the governor's mother saw the red cross engraved on his chest, she confirmed his identity. His body was preserved in a big church and starting from Voghera and the Piacenza area people have been worshipping him.

By 1470 all of Europe worshipped St Rocco and he was especially invoked during the following pandemics. The story of St Rocco made it to the colonies on all the continents: the Americas, Madagascar, Liban and Indochina. Today he is also very popular in the Philippines, Iraq and Brazil.

After the Holy Mary, his image is the most popular one printed out in prayer cards and in statues. He is ALWAYS accompanied by Oreste, his loyal dog. In some portraits the dog has some bread in his mouth, in others he is licking the plague lesions of St Rocco to sooth them.

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for your private walking tour in Turin with and without tastings, cooking classes and private classes.

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