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There are many buildings that are built to show the world the power of a ruler or to commemorate a victory, but few have an origin as curious and as magical as that attributed to the Holy House of Loreto, in Italy. The legend tells of the house where the Virgin Mary received the annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel was transported by angels from Nazareth to Loreto in 1278, where it currently stands.
Nearly four centuries later, in 1626, the Czech Princess Katerina Lobkowicz ordered a replica of this Holy House to be built in the centre of Prague in order to spread knowledge of the miracle and promote worship of the Virgin. As a tactic to reaffirm the Catholic triumph over Protestantism, following this Holy House of Prague, 50 other replicas followed, spread all over Bohemia and Moravia, although the one in the capital has been the most important and a regular place of pilgrimage.
Over the years it became a large architectural complex but the Holy House has always been the centre, and was the work of Giovanni Battista Orsi. On its façade you can count 16 columns with Corinthian capitals. The relief work narrates stories from the life of the Virgin and the stucco figures represent prophets from the Old Testament. As one would expect here, the silver altar is consecrated to the Virgin.
The arrival of large numbers of pilgrims meant that, in 1661, the Holy House was surrounded by two cloisters that could accommodate them. On the first floor of this cloister the Treasure of Loreto is on show, the main piece of which is a work called “The Sun of Prague”. It is a spectacular monstrance designed by Fischer von Erlach in the 17th century, gold-plated and with 6,222 incrusted diamonds.
In 1721 a rococo-style façade was added, built by Crystoph Dientzenhofer. His son, Kilian Ignaz, was the author of the terrace that completes the façade. In its centre you will be able to see a bell tower crowned by a bulb. The tower houses a carillon built at the end of the 17th century with the cast metal of another 30 bells. The entrance is ornamented with statues of Saint Joseph and Saint John the Baptist, work of Quitainer.
The sanctuary of Loreto grew even more with the church of the Nativity, built in 1734. It is a Baroque-style building with the stamp of the Dientzenhofer architects. The altars are adorned with rococo paintings by Master Antonín Kern. The frescos in the choir and the nave contrast with the sinister reliquaries kept here. On the walls of the church of the Nativity you will come across old skeletons covered with wax death masks.
In the southeast corner of the cloister is the Chapel of Our Lady of Loreto. In this chapel there is an altar dedicated to Saint Wilgefortis.
The legend states that Wilgefortis’s father wanted to force her to marry a pagan. Wilgefortis prayed to God to stop this happening and God answered her pleas making a thick beard grow on her, so that her future husband rejected her. Wilgefortis escaped the marriage, but not the rage of her father, who ordered her to be crucified. Her story is identical to that of Saint Starosta, of Czech origin. Although it may seem astonishing, in a place so consecrated to the cult of magic such as Our Lady of Loreto, you should not be surprised that an altar is dedicated to saints such as poor Wilgefortis.
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