Lower Langa

The Former Oratory Church of St. Joseph

in Alba

Business Hours

Always open

Closing Day

Holidays

The sacred building stands in reference to what is now Piazzetta Vernazza, at the intersection of Manzoni Street and Vernazza Street, with the later boundary of St. Joseph’s Alley.

The church building ensemble was built, in various stages, concentrated between 1642 and the first two decades of the eighteenth century.

Although the present construction is the result of restorations implemented at the turn of the ninth century, examination of the basic geometries of the building confirms that the general pattern of elements has not been altered over time.

Inside the church we find a conspicuous and valuable endowment of paintings and sculptures between the 17th and 19th centuries.

The
History

The Former Oratory Church of St. Joseph

From the birth of the house of worship in the 1500s and 1600s to the present day

The commissioning for the various works of construction, interior embellishment and furnishing of the cultic seat was due to the Confraternity of the Pilgrims, which was formed in Alba in the second half of the 16th century with reference to the Cathedral of St. Lawrence.

The seventeenth century and the birth of buildings

The set of buildings of St. Joseph's Church was built in various stages between 1642 and the first two decades of the 18th century.

Between 1640 and 1642 date the first acts between the Pilgrims' Company and the workers who would be engaged in the work.

From 1642 are the requests for authorization for the building addressed to the bishop of Alba, Msgr. Paolo Brizio, among which emerges the promise to "make the church as the Sacred Constitutions Synodali et Conseglio of Trent dispose."

It was not until May 14, 1645, that Bishop Msgr. Brizio allowed "a bell tower to be fabricated, and a bell to be kept there" which, it is understood, would serve exclusively "to summon the brethren".

In 1656 the operations corresponding to the construction of the main body of the church and sacristy should be considered fully completed.

In that year the Pilgrims' Confraternity solemnly moved from St. Anthony's Oratory to St. Joseph's.

The eighteenth century and the latest constructions

Even later are the pentagonal-plan chapel of the Holy Crucifix, of which there is documentary evidence between 1710 and 1720, and the reconstruction of thehigh altar in 1813.

The erection of the elevated bell tower on the side of the church, begun in 1689 on a design drawing "that came from Turin," would gradually continue in the eighteenth century until it was not completed until 1829.

The nineteenth century and works of art

Works of art created for the church during the 19th century include works by the misunderstood Alba painter Lodovico Luigi Cealanza in the first half of the centenary.

On the wall where the 18th-century altarpiece with Our Lady of Sorrows, St. John the Baptist and St. Louis Gonzaga (unfortunately also stolen, like various other paintings, sculptures, and furnishings in the church and adjoining rooms) reappeared, the signature of Cealanza, with the date 1843.

He carried out the pictorial decoration of the walls around the side altar of St. John the Baptist in that year.

The Modern Age

The activism of the "Archconfraternity of the Pilgrims of Alba" is documented until 1953.

In the following years, the final cessation of the sodality's work takes place; therefore, the ownership of the sacred building is transferred to the Cathedral Chapter and then to the Parish of St. Lawrence Cathedral.

In 1995 it was entrusted to the "Protect Together" Association of Alba, which from 1996 to 2002 meritoriously provided for the demanding, painstaking archaeological excavation and restoration of the church.

Since 2002, management has been transferred to the St. Joseph Cultural Center.

The Exterior

The front of the oratorial church is presented according to the most traditional scheme: that is, a double order partitioned by pilasters in an overhang.

The sectors are set on continuous plinth and surmounted by a unitary pediment of triangular lineament.

The entrance portal

The ornaments around the seventeenth-century door, very similar to those in the Boettian church at Cherasco, form a frame, terminated on the outside with an inverted top and on the inside with a pearl lath that wraps around the jambs and rotates on the lintel.

The pediment, resting on the lintel and with variously molded fascia and mixtilinear course, refers to typical seventeenth-century patterns.

Beyond the lower-order entablature rise the upper pilasters, which are followed by the related entablature and then the tympanum.

A large serlian window is inserted between the two outer joints.

The bell tower

In 1774 its crowning at the top was modified, adding the spire in late Gothic style.

It presents an ideational unified design, found in other coeval achievements, both in the repetition of the double order with angular ashlars and in the elegant vertical sweep of the belfry above.

The first order of the building is characterized by thirteen angular overlapping ashlars and is devoid of windows or openings wider than a slit.

The second order is erected with its own base, rises above the first cornice and towers above the roof of the church. This has a party of only ten corner ashlars and an elongated opening with its own raised frame on each of its sides.

Windowed nails, windows and serliana

The large rectangular windows in the middle of the side walls of the chancel, originally also repeated in the chancel, undoubtedly also respond to the intent to make the area beyond the hall brighter.

Finally, in the crescendo of brightness, the serliana at the back, similar to the one on the façade and a source of strong backlighting compared to the hall, fits in. It would be quite inappropriate if it had not been diaphragmed through the elevated decorative element that was on the high altar.

Thus inserted, however, the serliana helps to further distinguish the chancelspace from the presbytery space.

The sculptural fragment

Special mention must still be made of an ancient testimony visible outside. On the side of the church facing Manzoni Street, a small round bas-relief can be seen embedded in the exposed brickwork.

The stone sculptural fragment depicts a half-length angel in a four-lobed frame.

It is evident that this is a recovery from another building pre-existing here or from a nearby place of worship that was already in ruins (or completely lost) in the mid-seventeenth century (Santa Maria del Ponte? Santa Maria del Tempio?).

The work dates to a somewhat unspecified period, perhaps prospective between the last quarter of the 13th and the first half of the 14th century.

Its placement in this exterior wall likely occurred in 1688, when the new side chapel of the Guardian Angel was erected on the commission of Bishop Vittorio Nicolino Della Chiesa.

Visit Duration

Ticket Price

Free Entrance

Audioguides

Not available

Guided Visit

Optional

The Interior

A conspicuous and valuable endowment of paintings and sculptures between the 17th and 19th centuries was arranged and gradually increased in the church.

Commissioned by the Archconfraternity and individual figures from Alba, frescoes, painted canvases, sculptural figures, and liturgical furnishings were specially made for functionality, decoration, and devotional purposes in the place of worship.

Scrolling through the successive stages of overhaul of the church and related execution for the interior, we encounter artists, artisans, and various craftsmen who left significant works over time.

But let’s come to the endowment of the new Brotherhood Oratory, starting with the side sections. The construction of the side chapels in the oratory of St. Joseph constitutes a set of successive phases of intervention.

Chapel of Ss. Peter and Paul

In 1687 some expressions of intention about new work on the building of the chapel of Ss. Peter and Paul began to be noted in documentary sources.

It was not until February 1691 that the worship of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul could be considered to have begun in the church in question: in fact, a legacy from Doctor Torreri of Corneliano d’Alba, patron of that sacred side table, dates from that date.

Chapel of the Guardian Angel

Regarding the Guardian Angel Chapel, however, we have two reports from 1688: one concerns the building permit, and the other reports the first construction proposals.

In fact, the City granted the Brotherhood to occupy part of the street with a building (evidently that of the Guardian Angel Chapel).

In 1691, six months after Legate Torreri, the Della Chiesa family also confirmed their willingness to dedicate part of their estate to St. Joseph.

In fact, by deed dated August 29, 1691, “Bishop Vittorio Dalla Chiesa binds to the Confraternity one thousand liras and wants the income from them to be spent in the maintenance of the Chapel of the Guardian Angel erected by him.”

The substantial contemporaneity of the two operations could also justify the formal identity between the two side altars, which appear to have been made by a single master craftsman.

Both consist of an altarpiece of fair size, set in an altarpiece of architectural type, framed in a “small temple” with two pairs of columns at either end, surmounted by an entablature supporting a broken tympanum.

The upper pediment, containing the coat of arms of the dedicatory family, can be seen between the volutes of the tympanum.

Chapel of St. John the Baptist

On the last chapel in a chronological sense, the one dedicated to St. John the Baptist, we have no records except for a date engraved on the altar on the gospel side: “1718.”

Chapel of the Most Holy Crucifix

It would be several years before the Chapel of the Most Holy Crucifix finally entered the construction site. It also reveals a structural approach that is quite different from the others.

The high altar and the seventeenth-century “retablo”

It is aseventeenth-century retablo(c. 1681-1682): a grandiose wooden machine in three separate parts,which frames, in the center, the main altarpiece made by John Claret in 1648 to replace the original one (no longer present, now with evidence of Casoli’s underlying 1754 fresco) and, on either side, two wooden Caryatids and niche statues of the Saints Gratus and Andrew.

The making of the main part of the work is attributed to sculptors Giovanni Battista or Secondo Antonio Botto.

A pictorial depiction of the Eternal Father, painted by Operti in 1755, is inserted in the pediment above the central section, surmounted by the coat of arms of the Counts Rangone of Montelupo Albese, who commissioned the work.

Unfortunately, no documentary evidence is known, regarding its original making, until 1754-1755, when the “retablo” was moved from the altar to its present location, adding the upper fastigium as well.

The holy table

What we observe today in the chancel is the main sacred table, built there in 1813 to replace the pre-existing one in its entirety.

The work appears to have been carried out by master builder Traversa, plasterer Carlo Piazza, and minster Giovanni Berrino.

It is clear that its repositioning is linked not only to a revision of liturgical rituals, but also to a different, however broader and more “reserved” configuration of the choir.

The seventeenth-century main icon, the retable (no longer present), was kept in the center of the back wall.

Unfortunately, the current condition of the altar appears to be totally stripped of liturgical furnishings and objects. Instead, the balustrade bordering the chancel remained.

The works of Pietro Paolo Operti

On the side walls of the chancel, in addition to the faux balustrade and simulated séparé, a fresco work by Guarenese painter Francesco Casoli from 1754, two of the four large eighteenth-century paintings on canvas are still visible.

Only the original Marriage of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, Nativity of the Infant Jesus remain.

The other two, unfortunately no longer present, have been replaced by recent works. The cycle of four paintings from 1755 is attributed to the Braid painter Pietro Paolo Operti.

The frescoes

The wide vaults of the hall and chancel of the church, as well as the upper back wall of the apse, are entirely frescoed with quadratures and figurations.

This is an extensive pictorial cycle, created in 1720 by Vittore De Nicola and Carlo Posterla.

The main subjects of the frescoes, in addition to the decorations, are: Musician Angels, St. Joseph and St. Roch in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Angels with liturgical symbols, Angels in a circular mock balustrade.

The side altar of St. John the Baptist

Entering the church immediately one observes the side altar of St. John the Baptist (the first on the left). It was made in 1718 by Countess Angela Margherita Alfieri.

In the following year (according to the testamentary provision of her husband, Count Giovanbattista, a confrere of the Pilgrims) she also constitutes a dowry for the celebration of the annual feast of the titular saint.

Recent restoration has brought to light on the walls the fresco friezes made in 1843 by the Alba painter Lodovico Cealanza.

The stolen 18th-century altarpiece was replaced in 2009 with a work on canvas by painter Silvio Rosso.

The side altar of the Guardian Angel

It is located to the left of the entrance, after the one dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the side altar of the Guardian Angel.

It was originally made between 1687 and 1689, on the prestigious commission of the bishop of Alba Msgr. Vittorio Nicolino Della Chiesa (prelate in the city from 1667 to 1691).

In almost two years, not only the structural work is implemented, but the sacred table, liturgical apparatuses, and decorations are also completed.

The 17th-century altarpiece, representing The Guardian Angel attributed to Cherasque painter Sebastiano Taricco (unfortunately stolen), was set in a valuable wooden altarpiece, possibly carved by Giovanni Battista or Secondo Antonio Botto, then gilded in 1698-99 by Giovanni Battista Birago. It has been replaced with a recent painting.

The coat of arms of the commissioning bishop is still visible on the upper arch and pediment of the same altarpiece.

The seventeenth-century pictorial decorations, observable on the walls, turn out to have been repainted first in 1872 then again by Fedele Finati of Alba in 1935.

The side altar dedicated to Ss. Peter and Paul

The second side altar, to the right of the entrance, is dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul the Apostles. It was the first to be implemented within the oratory.

It was inserted in 1687-88, commissioned by physician Pietro Paolo Torreri of Corneliano d’Alba, then prior of the Confraternity of the Pilgrims.

On the sacred table, amid a refined Baroque layout with twisted columns and caryatids supporting a broken tympanum, stood the 17th-century altarpiece depicting The Madonna and Child, Saints Peter and Paul, attributed to Cherasque painter Sebastiano Taricco (unfortunately stolen).

At the top, in the center of the precious wooden structure, the Torreri coat of arms is still visible.

The frescoes on the walls, depicting the martyrdom of the two titular saints and various decorations, can be traced back to the original planting phase. They are also attributed to Cherasque Taricco.

In contrast, the archway above (in which, among other things, the Torreri coat of arms can be discerned) was already repainted by the fresco painter De Nicola in 1721, then restored by Alba’s Finati in 1935.

The nearby wooden pulpit is a 19th-century church ornament. The original 17th-century altarpiece has been replaced by a recent painting.

Visit Duration

Ticket Price

Free Entrance

Audioguides

Not available

Guided Visit

Optional

The underground route

The foundations of the church encompass the remains of buildings belonging to different periods of Alba's history, now a museum route.

As a result of the construction of the “holy staircase” giving access to the Chapel of the Crucifix, with the consequent raising of the floor of the chapel itself, the formation of the basement room below was determined.

In it one can still see the bases of the pilasters conceived in the original design and the structure of the bipartite staircase, as well as the system of foundations with a drainage arch, superimposed and crossed with the masonry remains of previous buildings, demolished to make room for the new chapel.

The deepest part of the museum tour preserves parts of the Roman theater, built near the forum in the first half of the 1st century AD and later restored with rich marble and stucco decoration .

In particular, some of the walls of the stage and related service rooms are visible, while the structures of the cavea that housed the bleachers are minimally preserved in the basements of the buildings adjacent to the church.

Schedules

Monday → Friday: 14:30 → 17:30
Saturday and Sunday 10:00 → 13:00 and 14:30 → 18:30

Tickets

FULL (bell tower+archaeological route) 4.00 €
partial FULL (bell tower or archaeological route) 2.00 €

The Barbaresco tower

Torre di Barbaresco, Barbaresco, CN, Italia
Discover ↝

The cedar of Lebanon

Via Annunziata, 68, 12064 La Morra CN, Italia
Discover ↝

Santa Maria dell’Oriolo

Montelupo Albese, CN, Italia
Discover ↝

The cathedral of St. Lawrence the Martyr

Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, Piazza Duomo, Alba, CN, Italia
Discover ↝

Are you planning a trip in the Langhe region?

Let us help you design the perfect vacation, and live your stay like a true insider