Welcome to Loreto
Art, Religion, History and Tradition
Loreto is a town in the province of Ancona (region Le Marche) on the central-east coast of Italy. It is located on a 127 metre-high hill (above sea level) between the valleys of Potenza and Musone and dominates the Adriatic coast. Loreto is a small jewel of the Marche, its dimension reaches barely 17 square Km and its population is about 12,ooo people. The town did not exist prior to the arrival of the Holy House on the hill: Loreto, as town, grew up after the building of its church and it throved around it. Inside the Basilica we find the Nazarene Holy House, where the Virgin Mary was born and lived and where She received the Annunciation. The House consists of 3 walls ; the 4th wall was never there as the house was built in front of a cave dug in the rock, which we find today in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth.
In order to give the best protection to the Holy House, the church in Loreto was conceived and constructed on the model of a castle / fortress. This particular conception of the building is indeed one of the most peculiar architectural characteristics of the Basilica.
A covered and hanging patrol path was then built all around the church. The project was started by Giuliano da Maiano and carried out by Pietro Amorosi, who followed a possible design by Baccio Pontelli. According to the popular tradition when the Crusades left Palestine definitively in 1291, the Holy House was brought under mysterious "angelic ways" first to Illyria, in Tersatto, then to Recanati.
And finally in the night between the 9th and the 10th of December 1294 on a laurel tree-hill, on which Loreto was later built. The town was actually named after this plant (laurel = laurum = lauretum = Loreto ). To this day people celebrate the " Venuta" (the Coming) on this special night. One of the most special and traditional ways of celebrating it is the so called "focaraccio", i.e. "big fire". Modest amount of straw and wood were set on fire so that the light trail produced could help the angels to find their way to Loreto through the dark night. Our Lady of Loreto is also the protector of the Air Forces due to this miraculous flight of which the legend tells.
After a series of studies and the discovery of new documents we can now affirm that the sacred stones were saved by the Crusaders and brought to us via sea after they left Palestine. The authors of the miraculous rescue were possibly the members of the Angels' Family , a rich family of Byzantine roots and Lords of Epirus.
Studies on the stones confirm its Palestinian origin. In fact the technique they used to make it is similar both to the one popular among the Nabataeans, a neighbour community and to the one used in Palestine. About 60 ancient graffiti were found on the surface of these stones, they resemble to some graffiti found in Palestine - especially in Nazareth - belonging to the Jewish and Christian tradition of the II- V century. The archaeological dig realised under the Holy House demonstrates that the House has no foundations and lies on a public way- which could confirm the miraculous transportation. The technical and archaeological comparisons show that the three walls fit well with the remaining cave in Nazareth.
The Holy House became since the very first years after its arrival a place of worship. Documents that prove the arrival of the first pilgrims to Loreto date back to the XIV century. The construction of the new Basilica started in 1469 under order of the bishop of Recanati, Nicolò delle Aste, whose aim was the creation of a bigger and more impressive church that could host the Virgin Mary's house. The initial architectural planning presents characteristics of the late Venetian gothic architecture style and it is attributed to Marino di Marco Cedrino. In 1482 Giuliano da Maiano arrived to Loreto with the task of working on the construction and reinforcement of the Basilica. The Renaissance plant of the building was designed by Maiano himself and shows traces of the school of Brunelleschi.
However it is not to exclude the contribution of another important architect of the time : Francesco di Giorgio Martini. Meanwhile in Urbino (a town a few kilometres far from Loreto, in the north part of the region Le Marche) they were building the Palazzo Ducale, which later became the symbol of the laic and civic Renaissance. Many artists were working at the time on both sites. With the passage of time the number of visitors kept growing bigger and bigger. As there were not enough places to host all of them, they decided to build the Apostolic Palace, which was also used as place of hospitality for the clerical authorities that administrated the Basilica.
The Apostolic Palace, as well as the Basilica, was designed to function as defence building. The external part is indeed a high impregnable wall without decorations and ornaments, contrary to the internal part- the one on the square- that is finely decorated according to the Renaissance style. Pope Julius II sent to Loreto Donato Bramante with the task of designing "cose magne" ("great things") for the town. Actually Bramante was the one who designed the square on the style of the Greek agora : the main square is enclosed within three walls (wings) and the Basilica. However the third wing (the southern one) was never finished. Between 1518-1521 Pope Leo X ordered the construction of an imposing surrounding wall in order to give protection to the citizens. Pope Sixtus V made Loreto acquire the title of City and diocese and defined it "Felix Civitas Lauretana" (1586). He also ordered the planning and design of an enlargement project for Loreto, the so-called "addizione" or "borgo sistino". However, the project was never carried out; the only trace of it today is the "Monte Reale", that is the street that leads Loreto to Recanati (via Fratelli Bracondi).