Pilgrimage Journal, Turin: Almost Like Heaven

To call it a good day in Turin for us four pilgrims is an understatement.  We started with Mass at the Church of St. Charles Borremeo, one of the 68 Catholic churches in Turin. Each we walk in today will take our breath away and make us marvel at the splendor inside.  I talk after Mass to a man from the parish who tells me this church was built in 1619, just a few years after St. Charles Borremeo was canonized.  Amazingly the church is right across the street from another Catholic Church that looks exactly like it from the outside. (See a collection of photos of today’s happenings at http://gallery.me.com/markarmstrong2#100322).

It was the start of a  day in which we managed to briefly tour 8 churches, most built between 1600 and 1800.  Each one of them had remarkable life-like statues, beautiful large paintings, stained glass windows and marble columns — all of them left us with a sense of wonderment.  We could have easily spent an entire morning or afternoon contemplating the imagery contained in each of them.  Each time we one we felt empty when all we could do was say either a rosary, a chaplet of mercy or other prayers before leaving their spacious spiritual interiors, knowing that 15 or 20 minutes was about all the time we could devote to them.

Sadly though, except for where the Shroud of Turin was being venerated, all the churches we entered were mostly empty, except for an occasional elderly man or woman kneeling in solemn prayer.  This is representative of Italy, where only 8 percent attend Sunday Mass services. It’s not that there weren’t crowds in Turin.  They were there to be sure, in the hundreds of shops that line the plazas and streets that is the rest of Turin.

Following Mass we made our way to the Shroud Museum.  Inside were remarkable photos, paintings and depictions of where the Shroud is believed to have been through the last 20 centuries. For those who wonder if the Shroud is a medieval forgery, there are plenty of scientific and contemporary records through the centuries to show that it Shroud has indeed existed since the time of the burial of Christ.


The scientific debate really began in 1898.  And in the museum is the giant camera that Italian Secondo Pia used first to take a picture of it. That photograph demonstrated that the bloodstained image on the linen cloth was reversed, as in a photographic negative.  It would begin the scientific inquiry into the Shroud that carries on to this day.

This museum also contained replicas of what the nails, the Roman whips that scourged Jesus and His crown of thorns (really a cap of thorns) would have looked like.  In addition there was the silver case that the Shroud was held in when not on display in the Cathedral.  This was the silver box that firefighters are seen carry from the Church when fire broke out mysteriously in 1998, nearly again destroying the Shroud.  Three times, first in 1532, fire has broken out in Churches that housed the Shroud, and three times it was saved.

After a brief lunch we walked the few blocks to get in line to see the Shroud again.  Unlike the evening before, there were many more people in line at midday.  We walked ahead of hundreds trying to find someone who spoke English to converse with, wanting to ask  some questions for this article about where they were from and their reason for wanting to see the Shroud.  But everyone was Italian, a lot of them groups of school children, and their English skills were like my Italian skills — not very good!

And just like the evening before, we were ushered into the darkened Cathedral of St. John the Baptist to be given a chance to stand six feet from the “image not made by human hands.”  Again we spoke afterwards about how intense those three minutes feel.  You want to pray and do, you want to focus on the image and do, you want to listen to a prayer that is said in Italian and try to understand and cannot.  And then those three minutes are over and you are quietly asked to leave the sanctuary.  You are glad you came but the time is so short.

Outside the Cathedral there is Eucharistic Adoration and confession being heard.  We are happy to learn that for the three of us that are Catholic, we can receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation because there are priests who speak English. Father Alberto hears my confession after my daughter Teresa sees him.  We talk for a bit afterwards and he tells me he is from Turin and feels blessed to be offering this Sacrament to the pilgrims that come from around the world here. “I like helping people that are on the Way.  It is a tremendous blessing,” said Father Alberto.

We spend time then — even Samantha, our Baptist pilgrim — before the exposed Blessed Sacrament in silence.  And then decide to visit the Turin Diocesan Museum located underneath the Cathedral.  It is a choice that the teenage girls fight me on a bit, because we have already seen the Shroud museum and they “strongly” feel that they want to wander around more and perhaps do some shopping for presents to take home to family and friends.  I insist on seeing this museum.  And like all things, God is guiding us this trip and He has a happy surprise for us following our museum tour.

The Turin Diocesan Museum contains samples of the architecture, art, and archeology of the Cathedral that dates back through the last 18 centuries.  We learn that the Cathedral was founded during the very earliest Christian times and built next to the existing Roman walls at the side of a theater, the ruins of which are still visible under the massive Cathedral.  Beautiful large paintings from the 15th through 17th century that once adorned an earlier Cathedral now hang on the walls in the basement.  Also you can see ornate ancient vestment, chalices, statues, crosses, giant candle holders and gem-laden gold and silver monstrances and even elaborate ancient tabernacles.  Again we are awestruck at the beauty and craftsmanship of everything we see.

At the end of the tour we come out of the Cathedral basement and are led back to the front steps.  Behind us is the very line of people waiting to get into see the Shroud.  The doors to Cathedral are open and people are walking inside to the main body of the Church, so we look at each other and follow them inside.

I had wondered about the people behind us in the pews in the main body of the Church who were kneeling and praying when we came down the side aisle and had our three minutes in front of the Shroud earlier in the day and the evening before.  I thought you needed special permission, or had a special pass.  Turns out you don’t need anything at all.  While you are not six or ten feet away from the Shroud, you still have a wonderful view and can be as close as 25 feet.

And so my daughter Teresa and her friends Rebecca and Samantha found out that by going to the Diocesan Museum, somewhat against their will, they were able to sit, kneel and even stand for well over a half hour and venerate this mysterious Shroud.  We could watch the comings and goings of thousands of pilgrims, like we had been, and listen to that beautiful Italian prayer over and over again said so reverently each time. We prayed rosaries, said Chaplets of Mercy and just sat in silence, knowing what a special 30 minutes we all were having together.

As we left we found out that Mass was said there at 7 a.m., and so we will be back tomorrow morning.  As we strolled back to our B and B we went inside more sacred places: the Church of St. Rocky (who knew there was even a St. Rocky?), the Church pf St. Francis of Assisi (with a beautiful statue of St. Padre Pio next to him), and the Church of St. Thomas.  We would have walked inside more, because we walked past more, but the hour was getting late and we needed to find a place to nourish our stomachs too!

Tomorrow, as I said, we will go back one last time for Mass in front of the Shroud.  Then we will say goodbye to Turin sadly.  The weather has been sunny and in the 70’s, but tomorrow’s forecast calls for some showers and cooler temperatures as we take a rental car and head down the west coast of Italy through Genoa to Pisa and then to stay on a farm that rents out rooms to travelers in the Tuscany hill country.

This has been one of the most sacred days of our lives.  I continue to pray for so many people and causes at each church we stop at, including those of you who faithfully read and support Catholic Exchange.  Please keep our small group of pilgrims on the way to Rome now in your prayers as well.


Co-author of "Amazing Grace for Fathers", website at RaisingCatholicKids.com

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