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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.

Vol. XVI

Loreto, an episcopal see and pilgrimage resort of the Marches, Italy, in the province of Ancona, 15 m. by rail SSE of that town. Pop. (1901) 1178 (town), 8033 (commune).​a It lies upon the right bank of the Musone, at some distance from the railway station, on a hill-side commanding splendid views from the Apennines to the Adriatic, 341 ft. above sea-level. The town itself consists of little more than one long narrow street, lined with shops for the sale of rosaries, medals, crucifixes and similar objects, the manufacture of which is the sole industry of the place. The number of pilgrims is said to amount to 50,000 annually, the chief festival being held on the 8th of September, the Nativity of the Virgin. The principal buildings, occupying the four sides of the piazza, are the college of the Jesuits, the Palazzo Apostolico, now Reale (designed by Bramante), which contains a picture gallery with works of Lorenzo Lotto, Vouet and Caracci and a collection of majolica, and the cathedral church of the Holy House (Chiesa della Casa Santa), a Late Gothic structure continued by Giuliano da Maiano, Giuliano da Sangallo and Bramante. The handsome façade of the church was erected under Sixtus V, who fortified Loreto and gave it the privileges of a town (1586); his colossal statue stands in the middle of the flight of steps in front. Over the principal doorway is a life-size bronze statue of the Virgin and Child by Girolamo Lombardo; the three superb bronze doors executed at the latter end of the 16th century and under Paul V (1605‑1621) are also by Lombardo, his sons and his pupils, among them Tiburzio Vergelli, who also made the fine bronze font in the interior. The doors and hanging lamps of the Santa Casa are by the same artists. The richly decorated campanile, by Vanvitelli, is of great height; the principal bell, presented by Leo X in 1516, weighs 11 tons. The interior of the church has mosaics by Domenichino and Guido Reni and other works of art. In the sacristies on each side of the right transept are frescoes, on the right by Melozzo da Forlì on the left by Luca Signorelli. In both are fine intarsias.

But the chief object of interest is the Holy House itself. It is a plain stone building, 28 ft. by 12½ and 13½ ft. in height; it has a door on the north side and a window on the west; and a niche contains a small black image of the Virgin and Child, in Lebanon cedar, and richly adorned with jewels. St. Luke is alleged to have been the sculptor; its workman­ship suggests the latter half of the 15th century. Around the Santa Casa is a lofty marble screen, designed by Bramante, and executed under Popes Leo X, Clement VII and Paul III, by Andrea Sansovino, Girolamo Lombardo, Bandinelli, Guglielmo della Porta and others. The four sides represent the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Arrival of the Santa Casa at Loreto and the Nativity of the Virgin respectively. The treasury contains a large variety of rich and curious votive offerings. The architectural design is finer than the details of the sculpture. The choir apse is decorated with modern German frescoes, which are somewhat out of place.

The legend of the Holy House seems to have sprung up (how is not exactly known) at the close of the crusading period.

It is briefly referred to in the Italia Illustrata of Flavius Blondus, secretary to Popes Eugenius IV, Nicholas V, Calixtus III and Pius II (ob. 1464); it is to be read in all its fullness in the "Redemptoris mundi Matris Ecclesiae Lauretana historia," by a certain Teremannus, contained in the Opera Omnia (1576) of Baptista Mantuanus. According to this narrative the house at Nazareth in which Mary had been born and brought up had received the annunciation, and had lived during the childhood of Jesus and after His ascension, was converted into a church by the apostles. In 336 the empress Helena made a pilgrimage to Nazareth and caused a basilica to be erected over it, in which worship continued until the fall of the kingdom of Jerusalem. Threatened with destruction by the Turks, it was carried by angels through the air and deposited (1291) in the first instance on a hill at Tersatto in Dalmatia, where an appearance of the Virgin and numerous miraculous cures attested its sanctity, which was confirmed by investigations made at Nazareth by messengers from the governor of Dalmatia. In 1294 the angels carried it across the Adriatic to a wood near Recanati; from this wood (lauretum), or from the name of its proprietrix (Laureta), the chapel derived the name which it still retains ("sacellum gloriosae Virginis in Laureto"). From this spot it was afterwards (1295) removed to the present hill, one other slight adjustment being required to fix it in its actual site. Bulls in favour of the shrine at Loreto were issued by Pope Sixtus IV in 1491 and by Julius II in 1507, the last alluding to the translation of the house with some caution ("ut pie creditur et fama est").​b The recognition of the sanctuary by subsequent pontiffs has already been alluded to. In the end of the 17th century Innocent XII appointed a "missa cum officio proprio" for the feast of the Translation of the Holy House, and the feast is still enjoined in the Spanish Breviary as a "greater double" (December 10).

See also U. Chevalier, Notre-Dame de Lorette (Paris, 1906).

Thayer's Notes:

a 1901 population: In 2000, the official census figures gave Loreto 11,298 inhabitants.

b Bulls in favour of the shrine: Our encyclopedia article makes the popes appear more uniform in their judgment on Loreto than they were; for a detailed look at the question, see the article Loreto in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

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Page updated: 18 Nov 17