Facts or Faith or maybe both. I’m not particularly religious so faith is not an issue although I am prepared to take a step back and look at facts. If you are Christian then the Prague Loreta is a place you will want to visit.
The Religious Background
Every Christian child is taught very early on about Christmas and the birth of Christ in a Bethlehem stable to the Virgin Mary. But let’s wind the clock back a few months to Nazareth where Mary was living. According the the Gospel of ST Luke, she and Joseph are engaged but not married. Mary is staying in a one-floor building when Archangel Gabriel appears and tells her that she will conceive a child of the Holy Spirit (that’s faith). Mary and Joseph then marry and their journey will take them to Bethlehem for the birth but actually most of Mary’s life before and after the birth was at this house in Nazareth.
Now let’s focus on the house in which Mary was staying when Gabriel tells her what’s going to happen. This room forever will be known as the Santa Casa although in Christian faith it can also be called the Marian House or the Holy House or sometimes the Holy Hut. It was a Christian pilgrimage site for the next thousand years. This was a plain brick building, quite dark on the inside due to the lack of windows and probably had either a flat or slightly sloped roof rather than the barrel vaulted one that you see today.
The Italian Job
1291 seems to be the year that the Crusades of Christianity against Islam officially ended and the Crusader States would soon come under the control of “non-believers”. Then one of two things happens according to your belief system.
1) It could be that the Santa Casa was wholly moved by angels via the Balkans to the town of Loreto near Ancona in Italy.
2) It could be that the house was taken to pieces brick by brick and shipped to it’s current place in the town of Loreto near Ancona in Italy and that this was supervised and paid for by the Angeli family as they escaped Palestine.
That second version is supported by the fact that only 3 walls were transported (the house was originally joined to a rock face on one side) and that the bricks were marked by numbers so they could be rebuilt.
Transported by Angels or the Angelis, in 1294 a space is provided for the Santa Casa in the Italian town of Loreto. Over time, the plain brick building is then enveloped in a highly decorative marble facade which was later surrounded by a Catholic Basilica Minor.
The Prague Loreta
It was important that I spent some time above describing what the Santa Casa looked like and how it was embellished because the Prague Loreta is an exact copy of the one in Italy. It’s one of hundreds of copies around the world and note that the faults in the walls are not recent, they are part of the detail of the copy.
In Prague history the important date is 1621. The Thirty Years War was in progress and 1621 saw Prague fall under Catholic control. Of the various families that supported the Catholic Emperor Ferdinand II, none were more supportive than the Lobkowicz family who founded the original Prague Loreta and installed a family crypt directly under the Santa Casa. Later the Lobkowicz, Kolowrat and Wallenstein families would all contribute significant amounts of money for development. The foundation stone was laid on June 3rd 1626 and the Santa Casa consecrated on March 25th 1631.
Prague Loreta Development
As with the Loreto in Italy, the Prague Loreta has changed over the years. The original Santa Casa just had the original building and the outside was adorned only with pictures but as the Italian Santa Casa was embellished, so the Prague Loreta followed. The Church of the Nativity was added later followed by the Capuchin Monastery and the frontage/clocktower were the final parts to be added. But it’s always a shock when you come here. First you pass into the Prague Loreta complex of courtyards through the Baroque frontage and the first thing you’ll see is the wonderfully decorated exterior of the Santa Casa. Then when you enter the actual building it’s a real shock to see how small it is and the red brick makes it feel even smaller but even if you went to Ancona, this is exactly what you would see.