Lower Langa

The parish church of St. John the Baptist

in Alba

Parish Church of St. John the Baptist - The façade

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Always open

Closing Day

Holidays

The sacred building has origins in the early Middle Ages, as an emanation of the cathedral of St. Lawrence, probably built during the 7th-8th centuries, in the Lombard era.

However, the church dedicated to St. John the Baptist is in a section of the Roman city Alba Pompeia, near the site of a pre-existing pagan temple, on the edge of the urban forum.

Over the years, considerable changes were made to the original structure, until it was almost completely rebuilt in the mid-1700s.

The architectural structure

The church is set lengthwise in a single-nave, hall-like layout according to the 17th-century floor plan.

The bell tower is positioned to the side. The chancel is quadrangular in plan.

The eight side altars feature wide openings with round arches, pillars with classical pilasters, and stucco decoration.

The sacred building is elevated and fitted with an elegant gilded coffered ceiling, based on a 19th-century design by Eng. Fantazzini.

The façade, facing the small square in front (where the ruins of a Roman-era temple are also visible), is also the result of the 19th-century reshaping of the pre-existing layout.

The
History

The parish church of St. John the Baptist

The church is rebuilt in medieval times, it is documented from 1229 ("Actum in platea sancti Johannis de alba"

Early documentation

The sacred building was rebuilt wider than the pre-existing one, but with the same canonical east-west orientation, in the early decades of the 13th century. Although dependent on the cathedral chapter, it also sometimes houses civil assemblies of the City of Alba, documented internally in the 1930s and 1950s of that centennium. Among them should be highlighted the important meeting for drawing up a peace treaty with the rival municipality of Asti in 1250 (notarized"in ecclesia sancti Johannis").

Various ecclesiastical documents from the 14th century attest both to the dependence of the rectors of the church of St. John the Baptist on the cathedral chapter and to the presence in its interior of three side altars with respective dedications to St. Mary, St. Peter and St. Michael.

In 1494 the bishop of Alba Msgr. Andrea Novelli assigned the title of canon to the priests rectors of this sacred building.

The influence of the Augustinian friars

In 1556 the use of the Johannine church was granted to Augustinian friars who settled in an adjoining convent until 1801. Around 1577 the church of St. John was renovated on the initiative of the Augustinian friars, even reversing the orientation of its longitudinal axis.

Between 1627 and 1630 the church was almost totally rebuilt. A much larger structure than its predecessor is realized, developed in a basilica-type layout with a single hall and eight side chapels. Their titles at that time are as follows: St. Mary, St. Stephen protomartyr, St. Augustine bishop, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Honoratus, St. Michael the Archangel, Guardian Angel, Sts. Lucy martyr and Nicholas bishop.

The further changes in the 1700s and the suppression

During the eighteenth century, the side altar with dedication to Our Lady of Grace was reshaped and a new processional statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was made.

In 1784, the internal strife between the Augustinian friars and the canonical rectors having continued, the church was deprived of parish functions by the bishop of Alba Msgr. Giuseppe Maria Langosco, thus remaining only a conventual seat of worship.

In 1801, in implementation of Napoleonic-era decrees, the convent was suppressed and the hermit fathers of St. Augustine were transferred elsewhere. The church is turned into a warehouse.

From the mid-1800s to the present

It was not until 1821 that it was reopened for worship, regaining parish functions. In the following years and decades some side altars still had their dedications changed. The new pipe organ on the grandstand is made in 1876 by brothers Francesco and Vittorio Vittino of Centallo.

From 1884 to 1890 a considerable renovation of the church, externally and internally, was carried out at the initiative of parish priest Fr. Nicolao Strumia based on a design by Turin engineer Cesare Fantazzini. New stucco and pictorial decorations adorn the interior walls.

Still during the last century, further partial alterations were made, as with the new baptismal font in 1939 or the sacred table dedicated ex novo to St. Rita of Cascia in 1941, or by installing the new Stations of the Cross in 1931.

Two donations from private individuals of valuable works of art from the 17th century also come to the church of St. John the Baptist. Since the past 1990s, restorations are providing us with significant revelations and additional visual quality for this remarkable sacred building.

The Interior

The earliest documentary records are from the 13th century

The counter façade of the present church corresponds to the back wall of the medieval house of worship, dating back to the 13th century.

The fragments of medieval frescoes here were rediscovered in 1989. On the sides, female figures and saints are noted, with stylistic influences from 14th-century French painting.

The counterfacade

The current counter-facade of the church actually corresponds to the back wall of the medieval house of worship, the earliest documentary records of which are from the 13th century.

Dating back to medieval times are the fragments of frescoes glimpsed there with difficulty. They were rediscovered in 1989.

To the side, two well-defined female figures, not large in size, can be seen. In the same sector, on the left, the figure of an upright saint (St. John the Evangelist) can be seen, far higher than the above two.

Instead, on the other side of the wall, another upright saint (St. John the Baptist) can be partially glimpsed inside a decorative frame.

Stylistically, according to some scholars, the fresco fragments recall certain characteristics of certain French painting of the first half of the 14th century. Similar to them are the expressive modes of the so-called “Master of St. Nicholas,” an anonymous fresco painter in the church of St. Andrew in Savigliano, in the old Savigliano Town Hall and in a private home, also in Savigliano.

The linear Gothic of the fragments in this Alba church suggests a possible date in the third decade of the 14th century.

The altar of Our Lady of Grace

The first side altar, entering on the left, is dedicated to Our Lady of Grace.

On the sacred table since the 19th century is the precious panel painted in 1377 by Barnabas of Modena (news from 1361 to 1383). This pictorial work, formed in hundreds, depicts the Madonna and Child (or Madonna of Milk).

The painting comes from the demolished Alba church of St. Francis of Assisi. It has long been an object of specific devotion. Many votive offerings are still observable here, testifying to persistent popular devotion; some are small paintings painted between 1887 and 1928.

The altar of St. Augustine

The succeeding altar from 1941 last century appears to be dedicated to the Augustinian nun Saint Rita of Cascia. The venerable is depicted on the canvas painted by N. Formica, applied in the wall section in the niche in the center.

Until the nineteenth century, the side altar of St. Augustine’s was under the patronage of the Alba Cantone family, but at least since 1872 it has been transferred to the Biglino family.

A 17th-century painted and gilded wooden altarpiece of late Mannerist taste is clearly visible on the sacred mensa. It frames a large panel adapted there, executed in tempera, signed and dated in an apocryphal inscription under the Virgin Mary’s mantle: Macrinvs faci.t 1508.

As is evident, this is a work by the famous Renaissance artist Macrinus of Alba (news from 1495 to 1513, already dead in 1528). The painting, against a background of classical ruins, depicts the Madonna in adoration of the Child, St. Joseph, St. Nicholas of Tolentino, St. Augustine the bishop, St. Jerome, and musician angels. The work comes from the church of St. Bartholomew of the lost Alba convent of S. Maria della Consolazione, which was home to Augustinian friars.

The altar of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

The next side altar of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (originally run by the Company of the same name), although the sacred table has not been there since 1886, is distinguished by the large niche in the center of the wall where the 18th-century Marian statue is included.

The remarkable Baroque sculpture by an unknown Piedmontese author, made of painted and gilded wood, is also used for the procession held annually on the feast of the Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.

The paintings

On the side wall to the left is the 17th-century altarpiece, of late Mannerist design, in which the Madonna and Child (Madonna del Carmine), Saints Elijah, Simon Stock (?), Francis of Assisi and Charles Borromeo are depicted.

It is the work of a painter in the circle of the well-known Moncalvo (master Guglielmo Caccia, who died in 1625), who would have painted it on canvas around 1628.

A 17th-century painting on canvas, donated to the church in 1992, has been placed on the right-side wall for years. It depicts St. John the Baptist in the desert and an angel. The work is attributed to the Lombard Giuseppe Doneda (or Danedi) known as Montalto (1609 – ca. 1678-1679).

On the wall to the left of the chancel is the 16th-century painting depicting the Madonna and Child, St. Augustine (or St. Nicholas the bishop?) and St. Lucy the martyr against the background of classical buildings.

Its provenance is unclear: from the Augustinian convent of S. Maria della Consolazione in Alba (abandoned by the friars in 1556) or from the vanished Alba church of S. Nicolao. The pictorial work, by an unknown author of probable Macrinian background, can be dated to the first quarter of the 16th century.

In the center, on the mensa of the high altar (built in 1894 to an earlier design by engineer Cesare Fantazzini of Turin), five horizontally arranged tempera-painted panels are clearly visible.

These paintings were part of the predella of a valuable polyptych that has long been observable in the Galleria Sabauda in Turin. Such a polyptych originally appears to have been executed in 1493 by the Asti-born Gandolfino da Roreto (documented between 1493 and 1518) for the Alba convent church of St. Francis of Assisi, which was demolished in 1814.

The panels reassembled here depict Jesus Christ and the Apostles.

In the center of the back wall, above the chancel, is the large altarpiece (oil on canvas) where The Baptism of Jesus Christ is depicted. By the 19th century it appears included and adapted in a larger, composite, ribbed, ancona-like, strongly projecting frame (from the demolished Alba church of St. Francis of Assisi).

The valuable painting is by Giovanni Antonio Molineri of Savigliano (1577-1631), made for this parish church in the third decade of the 17th century on commission from the Augustinians.

Above, on the back wall of the church, can be seen the triptych executed in mural painting in 1887 by Paolo Gaidano (1861-1916), a Poirinese by birth but active in Turin. The following are skillfully depicted there in traditional ways: the Madonna and Child, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi , and, on either side, two little angels.

The choir and the crucifix

In the right sector of the chancel, against the wall, a carved walnut seat can be seen, made from elements of the lost 15th-century choir of the Alba Conventual Church of St. Francis of Assisi, demolished in 1814.

The ancient choir, commissioned by Franciscan Friar Marco da Sommariva, was made in 1429 by Pavia sculptor Urbanino da Surso (c. 1380-1461/1463). The bas-reliefs reassembled there (between the backrest and the part below) depict The Dream of Pope Innocent III, the Nativity of Jesus with the arrival of the Magi , and various Saints, interspersed with various decorative and symbolic motifs.

Above the seat can be observed a large picture, painted in oil on canvas. The painting depicts the Infant Jesus, St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary, the Guardian Angel, the Eternal Father, the Holy Spirit, and St. Julius (added in the 19th century). Almost all of the work, referable to the manner of Cherasque artist Sebastiano Taricco (1641- 1710), dates to a period between the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

The ancient processional Crucifix, made of painted wood, dates back to the early decades of the 16th century. By an unknown author, it is a valuable work, but with later additions.

In contrast, two paintings, hanging on the side walls over the chancel, in which various Saints and Blesseds are noted to be depicted, among whom appear the city’s protectors. The paintings on canvas also depict the coats of arms of the patrons: that of Bishop Vittorio Nicolino Della Chiesa (prelate in Alba from 1667 to 1691) and that of the distinguished Como family.

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The remaining pictorial and architectural works.

Near the chancel, the first side altar on the right is dedicated to St. Job.

By 1822 it was the responsibility of the Society of Silk Spinners, a fellowship related to St. John’s Church in reference to the cocoon and silkworm market held in the square in front of the church.

The commissioning of this professional consortium produced the altarpiece executed in 1823 by Savigliano painter Giuseppe Chiantore (1747-1824). The centered canvas depicts Saint Job in disgrace. The underlying wooden and glazed confessional complex was placed there in 1886.

From 1822 to 1872 the next altar is reported to be named after St. Francis de Sales and patronage of the noble Deabbate family. From 1872 to 1933 those to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to St. Teresa of Avila (already depicted in the altarpiece) were added to that dedication.

Displayed on the sacred table is a large centered work in which St. Francis de Sales, St. Teresa of Avila and angels are depicted. By an unknown author and painted on canvas in the last two decades of the 17th century, partially retouched in the early 1820s, the work is reported to have been purchased around 1822 by the erudite Count Vincenzo Deabbate (“Patrizio d’Alba Pompeia natio di Cuneo”) for this side table sacra.

Until 1821 the next side altar was dedicated to the Guardian Angel (with its own 17th-century altarpiece, now visible in the chancel).

From 1822 to 1832 it was named after Saints Peter the Apostle and Bishop Eligius. Then, from 1832 to 1886 the dedication was changed to that to St. Joachim; in 1886 that to St. Zita (patroness of maids and bakers) was added.

In 1934, the dedication (which has become prevalent) to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was included, and the corresponding 19th-century statue from the side altar of St. Francis de Sales was also transferred there.

As of 2016 on a side wall the canvas painting where the Supper at Emmaus is depicted can be observed. The work, a private donation from the last century, is initialed “GAM” and dated 1629. It is therefore attributed to the Savigliano artist Giovanni Antonio Molineri (1577-1631).

The subsequent side section of the church was totally transformed in 1939, designed by Alba architect Giovanni Oreste Dellapiana. Since then the 1939 marble baptismal font can be seen centrally here.

Above, on the wall, a painted terracotta sculptural group by Virgilio Audagna of Turin (1903-1995) is clearly visible. The work conventionally depicts the Baptism of Jesus Christ.

The San Giovanni Association was founded in 2010 in Alba by residents of the San Giovanni neighborhood who set common goals.

Among other things, the St. John's Association aims to: promote recreational-cultural meetings among young people and among its members, to ensure civic and social engagement in the city context; promote initiatives, studies, research, and updates suitable for the protection and enhancement of the entire heritage related to monumental, architectural, historical-artistic and archival assets of ecclesiastical type; and contribute to the implementation of restoration work.

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