CUNEO, San Sebastiano Diocesan Museum

The contrada

The San Sebastiano Diocesan Museum is part of one of the most picturesque views of the city: Contrada Mondovì. The contrada, which has long been a pedestrian zone, still preserves testimonies that are typical of the medieval urban fabric, such as spiral staircases, loggias and arcades, today livened up by shops, artisan workshops and delicious window displays full of delights.
Over time, the contrada had several names: ruàta Bovìsii (because it led to Boves, to the slopes of the Bisalta) or the contrada of the Jews, testifying the presence of the ghetto. The settlement of the Jewish community in Cuneo is already documented around the middle of the fifteenth century. The ghetto then enlarged, occupying the entire block between contrada Mondovì, via Alba and via Chiusa Pesio; the entrance is still marked today by the gate with large ashlars at no. 24. The synagogue is bound to the presence of the Jewish community: it was not visible outside until the nineteenth century. The facade on the contrada was built on a project by the surveyor Sergio Isoardi in 1884; the inscription that runs upwards comes from the book of Exodus and reads " And thou shalt make me a sanctuary, and I will appear among you".

The museum

Starting in 2000, the entire block surrounding the church of Saint Sebastian underwent intensive restoration work which led, in September 2012, to the opening of the Diocesan Museum. The museum exhibits mainly works owned by the Confraternity and through videos and animations tells the history of the city and the territory, starting from the evangelization by Saint Dalmazzo (3rd century AD) to the present day. The exhibition is housed within the premises of the Confraternity with passages in historic settings such as the armoury and the council chamber. Suggestive views of the church allow you to enjoy unique and unexpected glimpses through the eyes of the visitor. The museum is getting ready to become the visitor centre of the diocesan cultural system in the coming years, divided into numerous open sacristies and sites scattered throughout the territory.

Saint James and the pilgrimages

Originally, in this part of the plateau, there was a hospital and a chapel dedicated to St. James the Great: care and assistance were given here to pilgrims who were on their way to sanctuaries and places of faith. Pilgrimage was a habitual practice in the Middle Ages: the faithful travelled to places of devotion as important as the tombs of apostles or the shrines that guarded relics of martyrs. The main destinations were Santiago de Compostela, Rome and the Holy Sepulchre, as illustrated by the large map on the floor of the hall. Shorter trips to local sanctuaries were also made, to ask for a pardon or express gratitude, as the numerous ex votos on display from Madonna della Riva recall. The clothing was poor, as were the pilgrims: a wide-brimmed hat to shelter from sun and rain; a tunic with cloak; a knapsack. The long and sturdy stick had a hook for hanging the empty pumpkin, which was used as a water bottle. Generally, pilgrims gathered the shells along the Atlantic Ocean, as a sign of the pilgrimage that had taken place.

Saint Sebastian and the plagues

In the sixteenth century the ancient confraternity of Saint James merged with that of Saint Sebastian, protector against the plague. This was one of the most feared diseases in human history and even in Cuneo the impact was devastating. The brothers looked after and treated the plague victims, but they often contracted the disease themselves. The city relied on Saint Sebastian to ask for protection, as the canvas with the procession of the confraternities tells, in which the entire community stands out against the profile of the city still surrounded by walls. On the opposite wall a series of seventeenth-century canvases, commissioned by the families belonging to the confraternity, tells the life of the saint.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with the great Baroque season, the cult of Our Lady of Mount Carmel grew, and is still celebrated today in a solemn procession in July. The years of the great work of the confraternities, always attentive to social needs are also in the city; three were the most important: Saint Sebastian, the Holy Cross and Saint John. The brothers wore a hooded tunic that hid the face, to avoid distinctions between members and to ensure that charity was truly free and anonymous as the Gospel requires. In our area the confraternities of the Holy Cross began to take care of the sick, those of Saint John, of the prisoners and those condemned to death, those of San Sebastiano, and of the infectious. The art of this period is particularly touching and spectacular, as evidenced by the canvases with the stories of the Passion or the beautiful Our Lady of Sorrows, dressed in a black lace and sequin dress.

The nineteenth century

The world of confraternities and religion wavered and re-emerged in the nineteenth century, when the Napoleonic storm marked the renewal of the entire society. The churches of the religious orders were looted, and many works of art were stolen: this is the case of the two imposing canvasses by Jean Claret, now in the museum, coming from the splendid Certosa di Pesio Monastery. Cuneo also had a facelift, with the demolition of the walls and the expansion towards the south, here witnessed by the reproductions of town planning of the French era and bronze models. The passage of Pius VII marks the establishment of the Diocese of Cuneo: on 12 August 1809 the pope arrived in the city, a prisoner of Napoleon's soldiers. The important administrative role assumed by the capital and the intervention of illustrious citizens like Giuseppe Barbaroux lead to the bull issued on 17 July 1817 which proclaims the birth of the Diocese, an event expected for many centuries. The journey of the captive pope is narrated by a remarkable series of engravings, accompanied by some relics that recall the passage of the pontiff in the city; in this room there are also portraits of all the bishops who have succeeded each other on the episcopal chair to date.


Direction: Paolo Ansaldi
Post-Production: VDEA Produzioni
Translations: Europa 92
Copywriter and research: Laura Marino


ROTARY CLUB Cuneo 1925