Francis Turretin’s Italian Family

Francis Turretin’s Italian Family

The seventeenth-century Christian scholar Francis Turretin is well-known in Reformed circles. Little has been written about his life, probably under the assumption that the lives of scholars are generally uneventful. Since 2023 marks the 400th anniversary of his birth, I will devote a couple of posts to this topic, beginning with his family and their emigration to Switzerland.

An Illustrious Family

The Turrettini family was well-known in Lucca, a lively city in the heart of Tuscany, Italy. Their men had traditionally occupied important government positions. In fact, Francis’s great-grandfather, Regolo, had been elected chief magistrate of the town. It was a family of merchants, specializing in textiles – especially silk.

            As most families at that time, they attended the local church, San Frediano, still standing in the center of town. But it was a church rife with corruption, so much that the convent’s prior, Desiderio de’ Negroni, had to flee in 1540 to avoid being lynched by the relatives of the local nuns.

            In 1541, a new prior was elected who immediately gave proof of great integrity. His name was Peter Martyr Vermigli[1]. What his superiors didn’t realize was how much he had been exposed to Protestant literature, both through his personal reading and through contacts he had in Naples. They especially didn’t realize that he had embraced many Protestant teachings, such as justification by faith alone and the supreme authority of Scriptures.

            Eager to bring the church to a reformation of doctrine and life, Vermigli founded a school in Lucca. For this purpose, he enlisted some of the greatest minds of the time, including another man who became an influential reformer, Girolamo Zanchi[2].

            By the time Cardinal Gian Pietro Carafa began his fierce campaign of inquisition against Protestants in 1542, many families in Lucca had become convinced of the biblical truth of Protestant affirmations. This reality soon came to the attention of papal authorities, who pressured the Senate of Lucca into passing a law banning any Protestant teaching. It was then that Vermigli fled beyond the Alps. Other families – including the Burmalacchi, Calandrini, Mei, and Diodati – followed suite. Tightening the screws, in 1562, the Senate of Lucca passed a decree that all those who had emigrated for religious reasons were to be considered rebels and could no longer return to Italy, nor travel to Spain or France (Roman Catholic countries).

Francesco Turrettini (1547-1628)

            By then, Francesco senior (grandfather of our Francis) was only 15 and had started to work in his father’s silk business. Gradually, his religious convictions became firmer until, in 1566, he declared his adherence to the Protestant Reformation, “having through the grace of God seen the truth after open discussions with his friends and parents.”[3] In spite of this, he remained in Lucca until 1574, when the bishop of Rimini, Giovambattista Castelli, adopted stricter measures against Protestant sympathizers.

            Being warned by a friend that he was going to be questioned, Francesco left the business to his brother and fled to Lyon with just enough money for his travels. From there, he moved to Geneva where he became a member of the Italian church. Later, he discovered that his suspicions had been right, since Lucca’s city council had issued a warrant for his arrest soon after his departure. He was officially condemned as a traitor in 1578.

            Attempting to resume his silk trade business, Francesco traveled around Europe, settling for a while in Antwerp, which was then the center of European commerce. He had to flee again in 1585, during the siege laid to Antwerp by Philip II, King of Spain. He then traveled to Frankfurt, Germany, and to Basel, Switzerland, settling for a while in Zurich, where his business began to flourish. There, at the age of forty, he married the seventeen-year-old Camilla Burlamacchi, from another noble Lucchese family. Camilla had survived the St. Bartholomew Day’s massacre in Paris, France, ten years earlier.

            In 1592, Francesco decided to return to Geneva, where he built a house and gained citizenship. He died in 1628, after having left generous donations to charitable institutions in his city. He has been described as a man of great integrity.

Benedetto Turrettini (1588-1631)

Benedetto (Bénédict) Turrettini, son of Francesco and Camilla, was born in Zurich on November 8, 1588. After he completed his studies at the Geneva Academy in 1609, his professors (which included Theodore Beza) begged his father not to let him transfer to other cities. “He is a pearl,”[4] they told him.

            Francesco replied that he had, in fact, devoted his son to God for the service of the church but, since he had already allowed Benedetto to travel to France for a few months, he was going to keep his word.

            Back in Geneva, Benedetto was ordained in 1612 and called to be a professor at the Geneva Academy. As such, he participated in the Synod of Arles, where the decisions of the Synod of Dordt were introduced to France. He married Louise Micheli in 1616. Both spouses were 28 years old. Together, they had seven children.

            In 1620, Benedetto was asked to spend six months at the church of Nimes, in southern France, where a pastor with strong Arminian leanings had created some divisions among the congregation. The church’s consistory wanted a pastor who had not been involved in the controversies and who could lovingly lead the church back to unity. Benedetto met all their expectations. In fact, they asked him to stay longer, but the church in Geneva didn’t allow it.

            Benedetto continued to teach and preach in Geneva, while writing some important works of theology. He was also sent on a diplomatic mission to the Netherlands. He died in 1631, to the regret of the Academy and church in Geneva.

            While lying on his deathbed, he called for his third-born son, seven-year-old Francis, and made an unusual remark: “This one is marked with God’s seal!”[5]

            We’ll see the fulfilment of Benedetto’s prediction in the next post.

[3] Quoted in Ole Peter Grell, Brethren in Christ: A Calvinist Network in Reformation Europe, 33

[4] Eugène de Budé, Vie de François Turrettini, Théologien Genevois, Lausanne, Georges Bridel, 1871. I:13

[5] Ibid, II:27.


Simonetta Carr