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The Loretto - Loretánské Square, Hradčany

The Loretto

Loretánské Square, Hradčany

According to Christian legends the Santa Casa in Nazareth was home to Virgin Mary where the archangel Gabriel told her that she will conceive from the Holy Spirit. The house was then transferred by the angels to Loretto near Ancona in Italy and became a famous pilgrimage site. The legend of the transferred house has a suprisingly realistic essence to it: the walls of the original Santa Casa in Nazareth were dismounted by pilgrims in 1291 and moved by a ship to Dalmatia and in 1294 to Loretto. This whole action intended to protect a holy site from the unbelievers who occupied the Holy Land and was initiated by the Angeli family...With the growing reputation of the pilgrimage site, new similar looking buildings started to appear in the second half of the 16th century behind the Alps and the Renaissance look of the Santa Casa in Loretto became imperative.

Prague Loretto, one of the most famous pilgrimage sites in Baroque Bohemia, took more than a century to be completed. The oldest part of the site is the small Santa Casa (the actual Loretto), built in 1626-31 by G. B. Orsi and commissioned by Benigna Catherine of Lobkowicz. The exteriors of the building were originally decorated by frescoes, stucco reliefs were added in 1760´s and 1770´s by G. B. Cometa; the scenes show the life of Virgin Mary, focusing on the childhood of Jesus Christ. Inside there is a love sculptue of Our Lady Loretto in a silver altar. Most of the equipment (shrines, obelisks, candlesticks, lamps and liturgical objects) comes from the 17th century. Inside the Casa there are several beams and bricks that come from the original Italian Loretto. Fresco fragments on the walls are artificial (F. Kunz, 1795). Casa walls are purposely chipped at one spot to imitate the damage done on the original chapel by a lightning to punish unbelievers, according to a legend. Under the Case there is the tomb of founders and sponsors of the Prague Loretto – the Lobkowicz family.

Four decades after the Santa Case was completed, it was surrounded by cloisters, then after 1740 raised by another floor by K. I. Dientzenhofer. Inside the arcade courtyard there are six chapels (the most precious one is located in the middle of the northern side, with an altar painting by P. J. Brandl) and a couple of fountains with statues of Assumption of Virgin Mary and Resurrection of Christ. St. Starosta statue in south-west chapel is well-known too; allegedly she miraculously grew a beard when she was to marry a pagan. Vaults in the basement cloisters and corner chapels are decorated by frescos by F. A. Scheffler.

In the meantime, between 1722 and 1737, the church of the Nativity of Our Lord was built on the site of the older St. Anne Chapel. The construction was carried out by K. Dientzenhofer and K. I. Dientzenhofer and completed by J. Aichbauer. The most valuable interior decorations include the fresco by V. V. Reiner above the sacrarium, Rococo paintings by A. Kern on the side altars and statues of angels by R. Prachner in the same place.

Inside the church tower there is the famous Loretto carillon, made by Prague watchmaker P. Naumann in 1694; all 27 bells with a sound scale of 2.5 octaves and a total weight of 14 metric cents were casted by Amsterdam municipal bellfounder C. Fremy in 1683-91. The carillon was donated to the Loretto by a rich merchant of the Lesser Twon Eberhard of Glauchov. The bells are harmonized in tune more or less and the carillon is a very particular type of a music instrument. The bells are normally operated by a clock mechanism, they can also be played using a keyboard of 2.5 octaves, used mainly during religious ceremonies; the carillon was played by F. Škroup, F. Liszt and F. Zappa. The third option is to pick out the melody manually using small hammers attached to the bells. Similar carillon were extremely advanced instruments at their time and were preserved only in very few places around Europe, e.g. in Amsterdam, Delft, Brugg and Berlin. Prague Loretto carillon rings out a Czech Marian song We Greet Thee A Thousand Times on the stroke of every hour.

In the 1950´s and 1960´s Loretto treasury appeared in the building, incorporated into the clositer storey, accessible through a marble staircase. Part of the Loretto treasure is on display there, a collection of Baroque liturgical artefacts of excellent crafted quality and immense historical and cultural value; apart from the treasure from the St.Vitus Cathedral, this one of the most valuable treasures in the country. The most famous and also the most valuable object is the renowned Diamond Monstrance called the Prague Sun, made in 1696-99 by Viennese court goldsmiths based on a design by J. B. Fischer of Erlach. Silver, heavily gold plated monstrance is 89 cm tall and decorated with a total of 6222 diamonds. Liturgical use of this jewel is very rare these days.

Capuchin monks take care of the Loretto and also the pilgrims since its foundation. Their monastery with the Church of Our Lady is found right next door and connected to the Loretto by a roofed suspension corridor.

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