FOSSANO, Cathedral of Saint Giovenale

The origins

The Cathedral stands in the place in which the inhabitants of Romanisio, after their move to Fossano, had erected their own church dedicated to Santa Maria di Piazza. In 1279, with the transfer of the remains of San Giovenale, the church took the name of Santa Maria and San Giovenale. Thanks to the intervention of the parish priest Oddino Barotto, later buried in the choir of the church, the building was expanded at the end of the fourteenth century. The imposing bell tower also dates to this moment, completed around 1420. The building was then modified by Giovenale Boetto in 1666, with the addition of the beautiful octagonal bell chamber.

The new cathedral

In 1778, the old cathedral began to be dismantled, to proceed with the construction of the new one. The assigned architect was Mario Ludovico Quarini, who presented a refined project, attentive to the neoclassical innovations of those years. In September 1791 the people of Fossano could take part in the solemn consecration of the new cathedral. Externally, the church has an imposing neoclassical façade, made of exposed brick. The four gigantic columns with composite capital situated on a high plinth confer great grandeur. The cathedral overlooks the central street of the city and faces the town hall.


Inside there are three naves with side chapels. What we see today is largely the result of extensive redesigning, which from 1862 to 1866, completely changed the interior image of the church. Gildings, fake marbles, cornices, friezes and stucco decorations were added to Quarini’s design. The frescoes of the vaults date back to this period, painted by Paolo Emilio Morgari, Luigi Hartman and Davide Ortori. The nineteenth-century pictorial decoration has an alternation of biblical themes, of the New Testament and the Marian devotion. In the segments of the dome, Hartman and Ortori painted the Beatitudes and in the pendentives, the Evangelists. Among the elements recovered from the previous church, the worthy baptismal font, donated in 1548 by the parish priest Guido Noceto, and the holy water font of 1643 deserve to be mentioned.

The presbytery

The polychrome marble high altar was commissioned by bishop Cristoforo Baratà in 1727, but was modified with neoclassical lines in 1789 by Giuseppe Quadrone, to adapt it to the larger size of the building. The adjustment that involved the entire church arranged new liturgical places in line with the post-council directives. The large oval canvas on the back wall by the painter Giuseppe Rossetti, depicts San Giovenale and the blessed Oddino Barotto who implore the Virgin to protect the city.


The six chapels that open along the side naves present the classicist system of Quarini, with polychrome marble altars. Along the left nave, you can see the chapel dedicated to the blessed Oddino Barotto, with the marble altar by Bernardo Vittone, and the one of the blessed Giovanni Giovenale Ancina. On the opposite side, the chapel of the Sacred Heart and the one of San Michele Arcangelo, both decorated with 1793 canvases, works by Rocco Comaneddi. In the transept, there are two monumental altars dedicated to Corpus Domini and to San Giovenale. The first one has the canvas with the Supper at Emmaus painted by Luigi Pedrazzi in 1831. Opposite, the great altarpiece that depicts San Giovenale who frees Narni was painted in 1837 by Turin-born Giovanni Battista Biscarra. On the altar is the urn containing the remains of San Giovenale, from the previous church. In front of this chapel, a votive lamp is lit, which was offered by the city in 1837, as gratitude for the protection against the cholera epidemic.


Adorned with fine wood panelling, the sacristies house the canonical blazonry and works of quality workmanship, such as the Caravagesque school apostolate. They are furnishings from the old cathedral, as the paintings of the miracles of San Giovenale. Around the middle of the seventeenth century, the canon Giovanni Negro had promoted the renewal of the choir and chapel dedicated to the saint: the work was assigned to Giovenale Boetto and the decoration to the Flemish painter Giovanni Claret. The cycle narrated the miracles and salient episodes of the saint’s life. The paintings of this decorative campaign are still preserved in the sacristies, while the frescoes were destroyed during the demolition of the old cathedral in 1778. The sacristy also houses another painting by Claret: the Last Supper painted in1644 for the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.

Reliquary of San Giovenale

The reliquary of San Giovenale is one of the best examples of late-Gothic Piedmontese goldsmithing. The great intensity of the face and the treatment of the surfaces make the work extremely real and fascinating. A true masterpiece is the mitre, decorated with perforated bands and enamel plaques; the fake precious stones are an addition that has partly distorted its appearance. It was made by the goldsmith Severino Dorerio in 1417, on commission of Ludovico d’Acaja, as evidenced by the coats of arms at the base. The reliquary is only visible during the solemn celebrations for the patron saint, which take place on the first Sunday in May.


Direction: Paolo Ansaldi
Post-Production: VDEA Produzioni
Translations: Europa 92
Copywriter and research: Laura Marino
Photo credits: Progetti di Mario Ludovico Quarini – foto Fondazione CRF


ROTARY CLUB Cuneo 1925



Don Piero Ricciardi, Mario Basso, Riccardo Ravaschio, Giorgio Cagliero