The 17th-century complex of the Loreto Sanctuary (Loreta in Czech) is the main attraction on the square of the same name, not far from Prague Castle.
On your way to the castle, it will be impossible for you not to notice the richly decorated front façade of the sanctuary, with its bell tower and carillon music ringing out on the hour. Why not stop and visit it or come back here after seeing the castle?
The Loreto Sanctuary was founded in 1634 by Catherine of Lobkowicz, a Czech noblewoman who wished to spread the legend of the Holy House of Loreto in the country.
According to this legend, the place where the Archangel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary is in Italy, in the town of Loreto. It is for this reason that a replica of the Holy House of Loreto stands in the centre of the monastery complex. The construction of the monastery was completed in 1746.
An important Marian pilgrimage site, the Loreto sanctuary is an attraction that does not disappoint even lay visitors, thanks to the precious treasures that can be admired here. Have you ever seen more than 6000 diamonds in one day? Well, here you will have the chance.
The Sanctuary of Loreto complex includes, in addition to the already mentioned replica of the Holy House, cloisters, seven chapels and the Baroque Church of the Nativity of the Lord. Some of the shrine buildings are used as exhibition spaces for permanent and temporary exhibitions as well as a venue for classical music concerts. Many tourists, however, are attracted here by the exceptional opportunity to admire the Loreto Treasury.
Another highlight are the 27 bells made in Amsterdam in the 17th century that now adorn the entrance to the monastery. At the stroke of each hour they play the Marian song ‘We greet you a thousand times’.
The Loreto Treasure, kept inside the shrine, is second only to the more famous treasure of St. Vitus Cathedral: it is an opulent collection of sacred objects made between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Of particular interest is the section of Baroque monstrances, testimony to the very high quality achieved by the goldsmith’s art in the 17th and 18th centuries: they are true masterpieces that will leave you speechless with wonder.
The highlight of the collection is the diamond monstrance (known as the Prague Sun) in solid gold and silver, reminiscent of Bernini’s rays in St. Peter’s Cathedral. Made in the late 17th century by Viennese artists and jewellers, it is about 90 cm high and decorated with 6222 diamonds. We do not know if there is any particular significance in the choice of this number, certainly it is difficult for us to imagine another object embellished with more diamonds.
Due to its preciousness, the Prague Sun is no longer used to celebrate liturgical rites. The last time Prague worshippers were lucky enough to receive the holy host from this indescribably beautiful object was in 1999, during a ceremony to celebrate 400 years since the arrival of the Capuchins in Bohemia.
Inside the Church of the Nativity of Our Lord are the two skeletons of the Spanish saints Marcia and Felicissima; they are covered with aristocratic robes, while the skulls are covered with wax masks.
Inside one of the seven chapels of the monastery, the Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows, you can see a disturbing painting of a bearded saint. This is St Starosta, who, according to legend, was betrothed by her father against her will. After a night of painful tears, the girl woke up bearded and the betrothed cancelled the wedding. The girl was crucified and later declared a saint.
Just beyond the famous Loreto Sanctuary on the square of the same name in Prague is the Capuchin Monastery (Kapucínský klášter in Czech), the oldest surviving Capuchin monastery in the Czech Republic.
Since the 17th century, Capuchin monks, a Catholic religious order inspired by St Francis, have lived, prayed and worked in this monastery, which is part of the Prague Castle complex. Today, a visit to the monastery can be a quiet and relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Also part of the monastery complex is the Church of the Virgin Mary Angelica, a simple one-nave church building with square chapels on either side and a small flèche. Note the cannonballs visible on the outside walls: they were left there as a reminder of the damage suffered by the church during the siege of Prague by the Prussians in 1757.
If you visit Prague over the Christmas period, don’t miss the nativity scene set up in this church: much loved by the people of Prague, this nativity scene dating back to 1780 has 48 life-size characters dressed in period costumes.
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