Its name stems from a passageway opened to Piazza delle Erbe (Herbs Square).
Here St. Giuseppe Cottolengo founded what came to be the Little House of Divine Providence (Piccola Casa della Divina Provvidenza), better known as the Cottolengo. Today it is an apartment block.
“When we recognise in other people brothers of ours, we reject violence. Peace entails also caretaking and solidarity.”
Giuseppe Cottolengo, born in Bra in 1786, had been parisher in the Corpus Domini church, standing opposite to the house, since 1822; in 1828, struck by the shabby health facilities and the huge numbers of poor people needing treatments, rented two rooms in the red vault house and begins sheltering anybody in need of cures, with a few volunteers’ assistance at first – and a clear mission: welcome and take care of anybody poor, ailing, forlorn, particularly needy, without any distinction, ‘because Christ’s face can be made out in each of them’.
The place soon became too crammed; Cottolengo did not lose heart and, relying on the goodness of Providence, bought a few premises in the Valdocco area and set up there the Little House of Divine Providence. Those very premises have grown to nowadays’ relief and welfare stronghold, where not only high-quality healthcare is offered, but also assistance to handicapped or cast-out elderly people, to teen-agers in distress, to addicts, to homeless beggars; in over 100 houses scattered in Italy and abroad.
In the Torino mother house alone there are some 400 guests, some 600 religious people – both active and elderly ones at rest – live in there; over 1.200 volunteers from the Cottolengo volunteers association join in, taking care of altogether some 2.000 people.
During the industrialization set-out in Torino and all of Piedmont in the first half of the 19th century, a massive flow of people from the countryside took place. Public institutions were weak and insufficient, and the proletariat exploitation was rampant, which set off a strong uneasiness. In this very context rose in Piedmont several characters, defined ‘Torino’s social saints’; these were people with a strong Christian belief, working hard for the needier, without setting about tackling political problems or social theories, but just seeing the love-worthy figure of Christ in the increasing poor and wretched. Besides Cottolengo, let us mention: Giuseppe Cafasso, a prison chaplain; Rev. Giovanni Bosco, founder of the Salesian religious order, and particularly active in recovering street urchins and helping them choose a trade; Leonardo Murialdo, founder of the Artigianelli society; among lay people, Giulia di Barolo and Faà di Bruno.