It was the night between April 11 and 12, 1997, and a fire in the cathedral of Turin threatened to destroy the Holy Shroud. The photo of the fireman who saved the Holy Shroud, with his face transfigured by fear and fatigue, went around the world. That man was Mario Trematore, now retired.
“I wore an old hiking jacket.”
In his memory, that night 25 years ago is still fresh. “I was at home with my wife, not on duty (…) and she was the one who saw the fire through the window. I called the fire station and they told me that a fire had broken out between the Royal Palace and the cathedral. I wore an old hiking jacket, which had the firemen’s coat of arms on the arm, and I immediately ran to help my colleagues,” Mario told Corriere di Torino (April 8).
Firefighters understood that the risk of the dome of the chapel collapsing was very high. The marble blocks would have fallen and shattered the reliquary containing the Holy Shroud. “We entered the cathedral, we smashed the glass case with sledgehammers, and we grabbed the wooden and silver casket. And we came out in a hurry: it was an indescribable emotion.”
There’s an image of Mario Trematore that has gone around the world: the one with the reliquary of the Shroud on his shoulders.
“In those moments,” says the retired firefighter, “you only think about controlling the fire and not dying. But I knew the value of the sacred cloth: at the University I had taken an exam on the lay and religious history of the Baroque in Turin. I remember that I went to the cathedral because I wanted to photograph the Shroud. Obviously it wasn’t possible, and so they advised me to buy some photographs. I bought some slides, which I still have. That’s why I knew how important it was to save it: not only for its religious value, but also for its historical and cultural value.”
The Mandylion group
After the fire, something inside Mario changed. He had never been a churchgoer, but he was religious. Saving the Holy Shroud, however, shook him up. Thus began an inner journey. “I followed a path, but I didn’t become a saint as some might think. I founded a group called Mandylion, which in ancient Greek means sheet, like the Shroud. We meet once a month, and our spiritual guide is a priest of the Consolata, Fr. Fabio Malese.”
The most beautiful day for Mario
The rescue of the Shroud took place on a day that marked Mario forever. Yet, he told Corriere di Torino, that there was an even more important day in his life: “June 8, 1982. I was in a church that day too, but I was waiting for my future wife at the altar. When I saw Rita enter I thought how beautiful she was and how lucky I was. That was the most beautiful day. But I’ll never forget the day when my daughter was born, either.”