LORETA



Veneration for the Virgin Mary, which centred on the pilgrimage town of Loreto in Italy to which legend transported the Santa Casa from Nazareth, grew to such proportions that numerous copies of that "holy hut" were built, especially in the Habsburg lands. Although the Prague Loreta is not the oldest example in Bohemia it is among the most important and the most beautiful, in terms of its architectural design and lay-out in relation to its site. The Prague Santa Casa was built by the Italian architect Giovanni Orsi at the instigation and with the financial support of Benigna Katerina of Lobkovice in the years 1626-1631. Instead of Bramante's marble reliefs on the exterior of the original Italian structure, the Prague version had trompe l'oeil painting, replaced after 1664 by the stucco reliefs of Jacopo Agosta, Giovanni Colomba and Giovanni B. Cometa. Inside the chapel there are imitations of the paintings in the Italian original as well as of the statue of the Black Virgin Mary of Loreto. The silver altar dates from the third quarter of the 17th c. Towards the end of that century a cloister on two floors grew around the holy house with special chapels for "exotic" saints (e. g. the bearded St. Starosta). The facade was refashioned in 1720-1722 by Kilian Ignac Dientzenhofer. It is dominated by the lofty central tower with the famous carillon made by the clockmaker Petr Naumann in 1694. The sculptural decoration of the balustrade in front of the facade is the work of Ondrej Quitainer and the sculptures in the courtyard are by Jan Michal Brderle. Integral to the pilgrimage complex is the church of the Birth of Our Lord, which takes up the centre of the east wing of the cloister. This was built by Jan J. Aichbauer in 1734-1736 in high baroque style. It has wall paintings by Vaclav Vavrinec Reiner (1736) and Jan A. Sch”pf (1742), framed paintings are by Jan J. Heintsch, Petr Brandl, Antonin Kern, and there are sculptures by Matyas Sch”nherr, Matej V. J„ckel and others. The famous treasury of the Prague Loreta is situated on the upper floor of the entrance wing. It contains a unique collection of liturgical vessels and vestments, among which the so-called Diamond Monstrance of 1698 is an outstanding piece, crafted from a design proposed by Jan B. Fischer of Erlach by the goldsmiths Matyas Stegner and Jan Khunnischbauer.