Thursday, June 16, 2016

Santa Casa di Loreto: The Marian Heart of Christianity

Safely hidden on top of a hill, under the dome of the Basilica della Santa Casa di Loreto, within a magnificently decorated marble shrine, stands a little house which, according to legend, is the very home in which the Virgin Mary lived, conceived and raised the young Jesus. The house, which survived the centuries, is one of the most revered Marian shrines in the world and the second largest pilgrimage destination in Italy after St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. The first historical mention of the 'Santa Casa' or 'Holy House' appears when Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, learned of its existence and had a church built around the house in order to protect it in 336 AD. According to legend, the Holy House came under threat during the turmoil of the Crusades, so in 1291 it was flown by angels to Dalmatia in modern Croatia, where a vision revealed it to be Mary’s house. In more recent times, the Church traced the linguistic origins of the story to a local aristocratic family named Angeli - Italian for Angels - who were responsible for the transfer. Three years later in 1294, it was again transported by 'angels' to Recanati and finally in 1295, to a laurel grove, the 'Lauretanum,' for which Loreto is named. Legend tells that when the Holy House was lowered into place the nearby trees bowed down in respect. In 1469, the large Basilica was built over the Santa Casa, and eight years later the magnificent marble enclosure by Donato Bramante was constructed around the Holy House of Nazareth such that in 1510, the site was officially approved for pilgrimages. Over the centuries, countless pilgrims have kneeled inside the basilica around the Santa Casa, wearing a trough in the hard rock.

There was a discernible police presence when we were in Loreto, as there was also in Assisi

Upper loggia of the Palazzo Apostolico designed by Bramante, 
houses the Museo Pinacoteca della Santa Casa 

The Basilica della Santa Casa in the Piazza della Madonna in Loreto

The Baroque Fontana Maggiore at the centre of the famous Piazza del Santuario, 
was created by Carlo Maderno between 1604 and 1614 and is made of red Verona and Carrara marble 

Detail of one of the fountain's bronze decorations made by Tarquinio and Pietro Paolo Iacometti 
who also worked at the Baptistery of Osimo

The colossal late Renaissance facade of the Basilica della Santa Casa was erected under Pope Sixtus V, and features a life-size bronze statue of the Virgin and Child by Girolamo Lombardo

Statue of Pope Sixtus V fortified Loreto who gave Loreto the privileges of a town in 1586

The Gothic interior of the Basilica was a collaborative work by generations of architects and artists

The spectacular dome was completed in 1500 by Giuliano da Sangallo, and frescoed by Maccabi 1890-1907, with themes from the 'Litany of Loreto' and the history of the 'Immaculate Conception' 

The breathtaking marble paneling of the Santa Casa della Vergine Maria designed by Bramante, 
inside which the Holy House of the Virgin Mary is preserved and venerated 

Commissioned by Julius II and realized on Bramante’s design from 1507, the marble 'mausoleum' is considered one of the greatest sculptural masterpieces from the Renaissance

Interior of the Holy House of Loreto, believed to be the house where the Virgin Mary was born, grew up, and was visited by the archangel announcing Jesus’s birth

 Detail of marble relief by Nicolò Tribolo depicting angels carrying the Holy House of the Virgin Mary from Nazareth to Loreto, dated 1530

German etching from 1725 showing angels carrying the Holy House of the Virgin Mary to Loreto

Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, also known as The French Chapel, with walls canvases by Lameire (1896-1912) with episodes from the life of St. Louis IX at Nazareth above the altar

The Confession Loggia where pilgrims line up and pay to have their sins absolved

A monk in his hassock walking across Piazza della Madonna

View of the Le Marche hill town of Castelfidardo from Loreto

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