This altar by Guarino Guarini is in a totally new style: it was the first to be detached from the back wall to give greater emphasis to the table of the Lord (many architects were inspired by this model in the following centuries).
Lawrence the deacon is shown in the altar-piece (by Antonio Franceschini – late 17th century) with the instruments of his martyrdom. Born in Spain and treasurer to Pope Sixtus II, in 258 he was ordered by the Roman emperor Valerian to hand over all the church’s treasures. Tradition has it that three days later Lawrence came before the emperor with the crippled, lame and blind of Rome saying that they were the real treasures of the church.
The emperor deemed the reply a provocation and gave orders that Lawrence be martyred. The legend runs that when Lawrence was placed on the grill to burn he asked to be turned over so as to be cooked better; a legend… but every legend has an element of truth.
The small altar-piece, by Tantardini, shows the votive offering made to St. Lawrence by Emmanuel Philibert at the battle of Saint-Quentin, in Flanders, on 10 August 1557 (the saint’s day) – the heart of the entire Royal Church.
At the sides of the altar-piece and the spiral columns:
1. Statue of the blessed Amadeus IX (1435-72), third duke of the House of Savoy. A pious and charitable man full of Christian virtues, he was particularly devoted to the Holy Shroud for which he had the Sainte Chapelle in Chambery finished in 1467 to receive it.
He left this still relevant sprititual testament: observe the law, act with justice, help the poor, foster the Faith.
He lies in Vercelli Cathedral.
2. Statue of the blessed Margaret of Savoy, on the Acaia branch of the family, (1390-1464). At 13 years old, she married the elderly nobleman Teodoro Paleologo merely to ensure peace between the families. As a widow she retired to Alba, helped the poor and sick and became a Domenican of the third order. With the favour of the Pope, she reformed the claustral order.
Tabernacle, ciborium and throne are masterpieces of harmony in gilt marble and bronze inset with precious stones: agate, jasper, lapis lazuli, onyx, garnet.
There are two 16th-century gilt wood inlaid doors, called the “turchine”, at the sides of the altar, placed there in 1828 by King Charles Felix.
St. Lawrence is shown on the dome of the presbytery, surrounded by angels; the vault has six sides.
The six-pointed star is a hallmark of Guarini; it can be found on the vaults of the side altars with reference to the book of Genesis. God created man on the sixth day; a sign of thanks for the intelligence and creativity received.
The four cardinal Virtues are shown on the four sides: Prudence with the mirror, Justice with the scales, Fortitude with the sceptre, Temperance pouring water from one jug to another.
There is a third, small dome above the altar-piece: Guarino Guarini once again emphasises the concept of the light of God bathing everything.
Above the presbytery there are the Savoy coat-of-arms and the radiant eye of God the Father in a triangle representing the Trinity.
Above the external arch of the presbytery, there are two golden angels. The one on the left has a laurel crown, the glory of God; the one on the right has the palm of martyrdom. Together, they act as an introduction to the altar of St. Lawrence, shown in the altar-piece with the instruments of his martyrdom (by Antonio Franceschini – late 17th century).
Between the two angels there is an ornamental scroll:
MARIA JO. BAPTISTA A SABAUDIA
"To the Most Omnipotent God: Emmanuel Philibert made a votive offering (1557), Maria Giovanno Battista (Nemour) of Savoy (widow of Charles Emmanuel II) completed (1680), Charles Felix restored" (1828, giving dignity to the church)
After the Second Vatican Council, the altar received a new Lord’s table supported by two pairs of angels taken from a 17th/18th-century sculptural group.