Centro Risorse Territoriale di Pesaro e Urbino

Loreto, a 1769 Guide

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Loretto (Loreto)

Ancona is in a higher latitude than Rome, the road to which after running eastward as far as Ancona, there winds off to the southward. Along the fifteen miles which make the distance between this last place and Loretto, you leave to the right the ruins of Cingulum , a town built by Labienus, one of Caesar's lieutenant generals, who peopled it with soldiers that had acquired some substance by their plunder among the Gauls. As this country, which lies between the Apennine and the sea, forms a very fertile and delightful plain, so its ancient population was suitable to its pleasantness and fertility. Besides the above Cingulum, on this coast were two towns of the name of Cupra , another called Humana or Numana, and Potentia, a fourth; but of all these nothing now remains except the mention of them in Pliny and Ptolemy. Auxim their ancient metropolis is at present inhabited only by the canons and monks, to whom a great part of this delicious country belongs.

Loretto has superseded Cupra Montana , once famous for a temple built by the ancient Tuscans or Etrusci, when masters of this country, that is, before the Gaulish invasion. This temple was dedicated to Juno-Cupra : Littoreae

fumant altaria Cuprae, says Silius Italicus. This epithet seems to denote Cupra maritima , which Pliny and Ptolemy have also placed along his coast; but those ancient people who founded this temple, usually made choice of mountains or promontories for this kind of monuments. Besides, the mountain on which Loretto now stands, has a prospect of the sea, and indeed is but at a small distance from it; now such a situation was enough for a poet, who is not tied down to geographical precision, to give it the epithet of Littorea.

The fathers Turselini, a jesuit, and Braglioni of the oratory, published in the last century the history of the Santa-Casa , that is, of the sacred house , which for near three hundred years past has drawn all Europe to Loretto. In these histories may be seen the particulars of its removal from Nazareth into Dalmatia, and from Dalmatia to the place where, at last, it is unalterably settled, after changing place no less than three times in the forest with which Loretto was formerly surrounded.

It originally owed its vogue to a vow made there by Julius II. on his being grazed by a cannon-ball at the siege of Mirandola, annexing large indulgences to it, and setting on foot many institutions and buildings. This devotion was likewise a center of union between the people of his dominions and those of the towns of Romagna and Lombardy, whom he had withdrawn from the sovereignty of their respective princes, and brought within the demesne of the church. Loretto became to the modern Romans, what Mont-Albano was to the ancient and the tribes of Latium .

This chapel the Carmelites had the cure of, whilst the knowledge and worship of it was confined to its rustic neighbours; but the devotion increasing apace, the founder of the jesuits went in person, and settled fourteen of his disciples there, and Julius III. provided for their subsistence. To these fourteen jesuits Paul IV. added six, at the same time relinquishing to them the pontifical palace built by his predecessors ( a ). Hoc collegium , says father Turselini, non mortalibus solum, sed etiam Beatae Mariae cordi fuisse maius in dies progressus ostendit ------ Constat enim vel advenarum frequentiam, vel donorum copiam solito fuisse longe majorem.

The communions differing from that of Rome have exerted themselves against this devotion by all the arguments, which reason could suggest, and by many a keen sarcasm. The author of Mundus alter & idem , an Englishman, has appropriated to it the third section of his third book, under the title of Moroniae felicis Paradisus ; as little has Misson spared it ; but, in Italy, the credit of the Santa Casa is not the least abated.

We met, in the church itself, an old provençal priest, who told us he came to Italy in cardinal del la Trimouille's retinue, and had lived at Loretto these last forty years. The removal of the Santa Casa , he said, he as firmly believed as the trinity, and the Incarnation. The chief motives for his belief were, 1 st The incorruptibility of a beam which had belonged to the roof, but now lies buried in the chapel floor, and though it was continually trodden under foot, the substance of it was neither diminished or so much as changed. 2. The conservation of the enamel of the sacred porringer, which, though perpetually rubbed by chaplets, suffers no waste, and the frictions seem rather to consolidate it. Well, father, said we, when we have spent forty years at Loretto, we may perhaps be in your way of thinking.

( a ) In the collection of letters di XIII. Huomini Illustri, see one from Guilbert, bishop of Verona to J. B. Mentebuona on the great need our lady of Loretto had of priests, recommendable both for piety and learning, le quali ambedue parti erano a punto a punto, dello estremo contrario , both which qualities they greatly wanted. This whole letter bears the stamp of a zeal equally wise and ardent.

The motives of credibility which father Turselini has accumulated, are more plausible than those of the hoary Provençal; but how are they to be reconciled with the account given by the Chevalier Cotovik, a thorough catholic, an honest Fleming, and a man of great piety, who, out of pure devotion, did in 1598 undertake a journey to Jerusalem, of which in 1619 he published a narrative of great merit, both on account of his attention in viewing things, and the elegant Latin in which he describes them?

In his description of the respectable ruins still existing in the town of Nazareth, he says : Ad radicem montis, juxta Maurorum Tuguriola, in ipso oppidi ingressu, ubi Dei-para Virgo ab Angelo salutata fuit, inclytum religione templum extitit, Annuntiationi Virginis sacrum, archiepiscopali olim sede praecellens, ex quadrato constructum saxo, columnis marmoreis porphireticisque sublime, peramplum, sumptu & magnificentiâ insigne : uti ex ingentibus columnis, partím confractis, partím sepultis, altissimisque parietibus etiamnunc extantibus colligitur. He then proceeds to the cripta or subterraneous chapel under the choir of that cathedral, and gives a detail of its construction in these words ( a ) : Descenditur per gradus lapideos duodecim ad locum subterraneum rupi incisum, ubi Virgo Maria ab Angelo salutata dicitur. Is sub ipso choro superioris Ecclesiae in tres dividitur cellulas sibi cohoerentes, quarum prima longitudine pedes decem continet, latitudine sex; estque altari decorata lapideo, sicut & media, sed sex tantium perquadrum habet pedes, ut postrema quatuor. In mediâ ab occidentali latere, duas ingentes videre est columnas marmoreas, fusci coloris, candidis intenitentibus maculis, distantes inter se pedes quatuor, quarum una Meridiem respiciens, eo fertur posita loci quo Angelus Beatissimam salutavit Virginem, opposita illi ubi precibus intenta sedebat, dum ab Angelo salutaretur (b.)

(a) Had our traveller been acquainted with captain Seragli's description of Loretto, published in 1665, it would have taught him, part 1 c. 21 that the Santa-Casa stood under the vault of the subterraneous chapel at Nazareth, and that it passed through this vault, and that in the chapel are still to be seen the vestiges of the spot it occupied: quod affermava con giuramento nel ann. 1633. Fra Hiacinto di Cinquefoglie gia stato 15. Mesi Guardiano di Nazarette.

( b) The plan and design of this monument were doubtless those draughts of all the monuments of Greece and the Holy Land, which M. de Nointel, the French ambassador at Costantinople, caused to be taken under his own inspection, by M. Carrey a pupil of Le Brun's. The collection of his designs (a collection the more valuable, as the pieces from which they are taken have since undergone many alterations) was removed from M. Foucault's closet into England, as they at Paris, who most concern themselves about such objects apprehend.

Let future Turselinis display their sagacity in bringing the church of Jerusalem to correspond with that of Rome; in reconciling Constantine, who, in building the church of Nazareth, had followed a tradition, which went current in his early time, with Boniface VIII. under whose pontificate the Santa-Casa landed in Italy; lastly, in shewing a piece so fixed, and so very difficult to be removed, as that described by Cottovik, to be identically the same with such a light and ambulatory chamber as that of Loretto.

However it be, the edifices of Loretto have all the magnificence which characterise the plans of Julius II. and which in Leo X. Clement VII. and Sixtus V. met with executors equal to their grandeur. The two former may be supposed acting on the same motives as Julius II. : with regard to Sixtus V. to such a soul as his, the love of his country was a sufficient incentive.

The church was built from designs, and under the inspection of Bramante; and in its lobby stands a masterly statue of the last mentioned pope ( a ), nearly as big as life.

( a ) In it is likewise a very fine fountain; a work of Paul V, to whom Rome is indebted for its most stately embellishments of this kind, so that he has been nick-named Fontifex Maximus.

The doors, which are of the finest bronze, and proportioned after the manner of the old doors of the Pantheon, form several panels of unequal dimensions, amidst variety of cartridges, each with a bas-relief of some scriptural story, the largest spaces being appropriated to the most remarkable events, and the whole of the most correct design and highly finished workmanship. The lower bas-relief have suffered by the ardent kisses of the multitudes of pilgrims, who are continually flocking to Loretto. At coming within sight of the church, the pilgrims throw themselves on their knees, and in this posture perform the remainder of their journey. As the church shuts up at noon for all the day, they who come later pay their obeisance to the doors. The lowermost panel of one of the leaves, and which exactly answers to the reach of the people on their knees, represents the murder of Abel, who lies stretched out quite naked, with all the forepart of his body exposed in a projecture of two thirds. Now all this part, though of massy bronze, and of the same cast as the door itself, is nearly effaced by the abovementioned devout osculations ( a ).

( a ) The admirable Christ by Michael Angelo, in the Minerva church at Rome, has undergone the like fate, though of white marble. The leg most exposed to these kisses, is in some measure preserved by means of a buskin over it. This is one of Michael Angelo's pieces, on which the Romans place the highest value; and to it indeed may be applied what Quintilian used to say of Phidias's Olympic Jupiter: Eius pulchritudo etiam adjecisse aliquid religioni videtur : adeo majestas operis Deum aequavit.

The church forms a Latin cross, with a vast nave, the collaterals of which are but narrow; yet their height nearly equals that of the nave. These collaterals are as I may say wainscotted by a contiguous row of chapels against the wall, from which they project irregularly. The architecture of these chapels is not uniform, but the marbles, paintings, and other ornaments are amazingly splendid and beautiful. Among the pictures is one of Barrocci's in the chapel of the dukes of Urbino: it is a repetition of his fine Annunciation, which I had seen at Pezaro, with the addition of a straw chair, and a huge cat sleeping on it, all of a heap, without having been awakened by the coming of the Angel. The altar-piece of the parallel chapel is a Last Supper by Simon Vouet, and which for correctness of design, grandeur of composition, force of expression, and lustre of colouring, may vie with the finest pieces of Italy. Never did I see any thing in France of this master, where all these beauties are combined in so high a degree.

The left wing of the church is taken up with the confessionals of the penitentiary jesuits; of which there is one for every nation who, by a note on the confessional, are directed to that of their country. There the penitentiaries are on duty the whole morning, every one having at the door of his lodge a large black rod or staff, with which they give a tap on the head of those, who, having no mortal sins on their consciences, expiate the venial by this act of humiliation. In order to which they present themselves on their knees, facing the first confessional. The French penitentiary, on seeing us, left his sentinel box and came up to us; he told us, that though not a day passed without his having to do with French pilgrims, it only made him the more desirousof good company. After walking us about for some time, he offered us his services in the most genteel manner, and indeed seemed to us more conversable and friendly than the provençal priest. I afterwards saw at Rome a very pretty Provençal young woman, who was rambling alone all over Italy, in a pilgrim's dress. She could not sufficiently praise this penitentiary, for his many civilities and good offices. In the left wing is likewise the choir of the canons, appropriated to this church, which Sixtus V. raised to a bishop's see, in lieu of Recanati. This choir and all its appurtenances make a glorious figure, with paintings by the most eminent hands.

Under the cross is the Santa-casa , within a kind of tegument, which cost above 50,000 golden crowns; and all the riches of sculpture have been bestowed, or rather heaped on it. Misson gives us the plan, the elevation and other particulars of it, with an accuracy which admits of no improvement. The ornaments of this single small piece would suffice for the sumptuous decoration of a whole church. It was built from a design of Sansovin, and not of Bramante, whose head ran so much on antiquity, that he would certainly have borrowed from it some fancy, like that which he took for guide in the little chapel in the convent of St. Pietro Montorio at Rome. Leo X. And afterwards Clement VII. employed on it, as in emulation, the best sculptors of Florence, Baccio Bandinelli , whom father Turselini called Raphael Coutacii, Nicholas Tribolo, Raphael de Monte-Lupo, and Anthony de San-Gallo. The bronze doors abovementioned are by the last. All those masters, who were contemporaries, rivals or disciples of Michael Angelo ( a ), striving to outdo each other in the execution of the ornaments, the Bas reliefs, and the figures of the prophets and sybils have, in this grand work, erected a monument to the Florentine school, where the taste manifestly shews itself by the manner, which is rather learned than elegant, and lofty than agreeable.

( a ) They like him, to all the arts connected with design, added that of poetry, and a digested knowledge of the master-pieces of antiquity in every kind. Accordingly they were either acquainted or corresponded with all the fine geniuses of the Cinque-cento. In annibal Caro's letters, are several monuments of the correspondence between him and those artists. R. de Monte-Lupo having slipt into some indiscretion towards him, he pleasantly tells him: quando avreste fatto ogni grande errore in questo genere di ceremonie, l'esser voi Scultore porta seco un privilegio che vi rende salvo da ogni stravaganza. Had you committed ever so great a mistake in ceremonies of this kind, your being a sculptor authorises you in extravagancies.

Over the Santa-Casa is a cupola, which tantum se a templi fastigio attollit, quantum fastigium a terra * (* Tursel.l.2.c.14.). This cupola was painted by Pomerancio, who, in the Calotte has represented the triumph of the virgin, and in the scutcheons the four evangelists. The lustre of that master's colours could not withstand the vapour of the light which is continually burning in the Santa-Casa ; so that now the four evangelists are scarcely discernible.

The church was filled with crowds of pilgrims, who had flocked hither on account of the nativity, as Loretto's capital solemnity. One of the great acts of devotion is to go round the Santa-Casa on their knees, and to repeat these rounds according to their strength or devotion. This odd pilgrimage is accompanied with beating the breast, sobbing, sighing and weeping, all which the Italians have at command. Sometimes little squabbles happen about precedency, every one striving to be closest to the Santa-Casa . Of the ceremonial in this point I am totally ignorant; but I know that the floor on which they thus drag themselves, wears away so fast by the continual friction of the knees and feet, that every fifteen years it must be new paved. As to the inside of the Santa-Casa , I shall not be very particular; you are dazzled by the lustre of the gold and jewels glittering all over it, you are stifled by the smoak of several lights which are continually burning in it, and you are squeezed to death by the crowds pressing for a view of a place they hold so sacred. The only thing I could see with any clearness was the Santa-Scudella , which is no more than a common earthen porringer broke in many places, and covered with an enamel, of black shade; but it is strongly cemented in a vessel, the cup and foot of which are of a richness beyond imagination. Every pilgrim is sure to trail about his chaplet in this porringer; likewise water is poured into it, for sick persons requesting such a favour.

I shall observe the same brevity with regard to the treasury. --- The enormous quantity of ornaments, of vessels, reliquaries pearls and jewels, tire the sight without satisfying it; but it fixes itself with a calm complacency on a Holy Family by Raphael, one of that great master's most pleasing pieces, and on a Nativity of the Virgin by Annabal Carraccio, removed thither from the church where it adorned one of the chapels. Here is also the celebrated Lipsius's pen who consecrated it to our lady of Loretto; and this example has been followed by several bad poets, whose pens are fastened to acrostics, but such as give no exalted idea of the offering. Among all this trash, is a very devout piece by the famous Mark Anthony Muret, concluding with these verses, which are proceeded by a particular account of miracles performed by our lady of Loretto, in behalf of the sick, and persons in danger shipwrecked.

O ego nunc morbis multó gravioribus aeger,

Naufragiumque timens longe exitiosius illo,

Et jampridem animum peccati compede vinctus,

Si possim, morbis liber, vinclisque solutus,

Fluctibus & ventis laceram subducere puppim,

Quas tibi laetus agam grates dum vita manebit!

Te cum luce novâ sparget Sol aureus orbem,

Te recinam quoties abscondet opaca diem nox;

Et tua praecipuo venerabor numina cultu.

The treasury where all these astonishing riches are lodged, is an oblong hall; the proportions, the workmanship of the closets all along its sides, and the corresponding compartments of the roof and pavement are exquisitely beautiful. These riches, however dazzling to the spectator, are far short of what our lady of Loretto is possessed of in lands, securities, bonds and money. The money must, by this time, exceed all computation, since, according to father Turselini, so long ago as before Leo X. Dena, duodena, quaterdena, senadena, usque ad vicena aureorum millia in arca quotannis ingeruntur. Mr. Addison seems surprised that such a treasure has not tempted the avidity of the Turks and pyrates. Had he read father Turselini, he would there have seen the little success several attempts of that kind met with, and how they who had not pilfered any pieces of the treasury, but only picked bits of stones from the Santa-Casa , have by a series of misfortunes, which they looked upon as divine judgment, been obliged to restore them to their place. Concerning this, the father produces a letter of John Suares, archbishop of Coimbra, who construed some remarkable evil which befel him as a divine punishment, and in consequence sent back to Loretto a stone, which he had detached from that sacred building, and was not able to keep, though he procured the pope himself to relieve him from the excommunication pronounced ipso facto against such sacrileges.

If the same father Turselini may be credited, the popes and their nephews have never put their hands into this treasury, except only in two exigencies, when totally destitute of all other resources: Leo X. When pressed by the duke of Urbino's troops, took six thousand golden crowns, but restored them within the year; and Clement VII. When pent up in the castle of St. Angelo, by the constable of Bourbon's army, made free with half that sum, but returned it with the like punctuality.

All relations mention the galli-pots of the laboratory on account of the paintings on them, from designs of Raphael. Annibal Caro's letters have let me into the true history of these vessels, which had originally belonged to the house of Urbino. In a letter of the 15 th of January 1563, Caro says to the duchess of Urbino (Victoria Farnese) Con questa occasione che mi ramenta della Pittura, voglio supplicare V.E. a farmi un favore molto desiderato, e a lei molto facile. Il Signor Duca suo consorte, fece fare qui molti disegni di varie storiette per dipingere una credenza di majolica in Urbino, la quale e stata finita, e gli disegni sono restati in mano di quei Maestri, i quali ordinariamente non gli hanno ad avere. Se V. E. si volesse degnare di ricuperargli da loro, con monstrare di voler servirsene essa, farebbe a me una grazia singolare e un gran beneficio al pittor che gli fece qui. Al quale si dovrebbero restituire, poi che senza chiederne premio, v'a cosi volontieri durata fatica. E di questa grazia la prego quanto piu posso.

' I take this opportunity, as reminding me of painting, most humbly to beg a favour of your highness, which is extremely wanted , and which you can very easily do. The duke, your spouse, ordered here a great number of historical designs for painting a set of very fine porcelaine utensils at Urbino; which has been done, and the designs were left in the hands of those artists, who usually are not intitled to have them. If your highness would be pleased to order those masters to deliver up the designs, as if you intended to make use of them, it would be a particular favour to me, and a very great benefit to the painter who did them here. To him they ought to be restored, as having gone through the trouble without asking any recompence, and it is a favour for which I most earnestly intreat your highness.'

If this passage does not informs us precisely who the author of these designs was, it gives us to understand that he was a master of the Roman school, living in 1563, and one for whom Caro had no small friendship. It might be the celebrated Tadeo Zuccari, who, at that time, was painting the palace of Caprarola for Cardinal Farnese, from plans which Caro had very particularly laid down to him in a large letter of the 2 nd of November, in the foregoing year. And in a letter of the 20 th of October, the following year, Caro recommends this master to prince Orsino, as the best hand he knew for a grand piece of painting, which that prince intended for his feat at Bomarzo.

The church of Loretto is both the cathedral and parochial church of the whole city. One of the mornings which we spent in viewing it, the corpse of an old servant maid who had belonged to one of the canons, was exposed to public view, the face uncovered, and children all about in driving away the flies from the face and feet, which were also uncovered. Were the interest and conveniency of the priests less connected with the custom of burying the dead in churches, it is from such a church as this, which has so many claims to their respect, that corpses should especially be excluded.

The trade of Loretto is the same as that of all the towns to which pilgrims resort, a large consumption of provisions, and a sale of Madonnas, chaplets, medals, &c. that is to say, the very trade of those men who stirred up the city of Ephesus against St. Paul and Barnabas. I saw whole shops of chaplets and rosaries of various sorts and various prices, some of agate, some of lapis Lazuli and other gems set in gold, which, as I was told, would not be sold under twenty, thirty, and even fifty sequins. This I the more readily belived, as I had not peremptorily declared myself a buyer, and indeed my whole purchase amounted to a medal of four Bajocos ( a ). I shall conclude this article with just mentioning, that soon after the tegument of the Santa-Casa had been finished, the cupola split, but was secured by the architect San-Gallo. A detail of his process in this very ingenious repair may be seen in the sixth chapter of the third book of father Turselini's history of Loretto.

( a ) A bajoco, something less than a penny.

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