Loreto Bell, Italy


Transferred from the Wellcome Institute in 1985; 1985.52.783 
White and brass metal hand bells like this one were sold in the famous Marian pilgrimage town of Loreto in Italy. The main attraction in this hill town is the Santa Casa, a holy house that is believed to be the home in which the Virgin Mary raised Jesus. The Santa Casa is thought to have been brought from Nazareth to Loreto, via Croatia, in 1294. According to legend, the house was borne through the air by angels and it is from this tradition that Our Lady of Loreto is venerated as a patron saint of aviation today. An alternative, perhaps more credible, explanation is that crusaders moved the house brick by brick. In 1469 the Basilica della Santa Casa was built around the small, holy house, and in 1510 the Church approved Loreto as an official place of pilgrimage. Today it is one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in Europe, attracting more than four million visitors a year.
Between 1750 and 1754 a large bell tower designed by the Italian architect Luigi Vanvitelli was built next to the basilica, and miniature Loreto hand bells became popular religious souvenirs. The tower, which still stands today, houses a carillon of nine bells that sing the Litany of Loreto. An even bigger bell tower, with thirty bells said to have been playing on the hour since 15 August 1695, stands in the Loreto Palace in Prague. The palace is named after the Italian pilgrimage town, and was built in the 17th century as part of a campaign to promote Catholicism. 
Loreto bells also became popular in parts of Poland, where they were used in magico-religious rituals to protect homes, land and crops from lightning and thunderstorms. When storms threatened, consecrated Loreto bell towers were rung to protect land for as far as the sound of the bell could be heard, and Loreto hand bells, together with a rosary and sometimes a candle, were carried round homes three times. The bell was rung, and the rosary was used with the words, ‘God save us’ and ‘Holy Mother, be our mediator’. 

Artisans of Memory

Behind the scenes of an amulets project

This series of short films follows the progress and practices of those connected with the Small Blessings project as they unravel the stories surrounding these curious objects.

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