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fresh robes, and precious stones of the most rare and costly kind, without ever twice putting on the same; while now, such is the mutability of fortune, she has not more than would suffice for a daily change of raiment.”
Her rent was not less than 30,000 crowns yearly, —no illiberal provision for sustaining her dignity; and her cellars were kept amply stocked with wines of the most superior quality. Indeed, so large was the supply, that it might have led people to imagine that abstinence was not among the virtues of Nostra Dama di Loretto.
One of our party ventured to remark that St. Luke excelled not in sculpture, for that the Madonna was not the most symmetrical of female forms. “ The saint might have made her beautiful had he so thought fit,” said the guide, “but he wished to show of how little value beauty is, and that personal comeliness is of no avail in the sight of God, who selected the meek Mary in preference to all women. The French took this precious image away, but restored it, fearful if they retained it, that some heavy calamity would befall them as a chastisement for the sacrilege.”
The gravity with which this information was delivered, proved that the speaker was duly impressed with the importance of the subject.
A list of the present possessions of our Lady of Loretto was exhibited to us, with the names of the donors attached to the description of each costly
gift, which no doubt serves as an incitement to the generosity of all rich visitors. Some of the ornaments were of great value, and our admiration of them seemed to give peculiar satisfaction to those who showed them. The recent date of the presents prove that the pious votaries of superstition are not now less munificent towards this favorite idol than were those of more remote times.
On looking at the treasures of Loretto one might fancy oneself in the fifteenth, rather than in the nineteenth century: and I confess, however impious the avowal may be considered by good catholics, that I thought, while gazing on them, that the sum their sale would produce, would be much better employed in promoting education and religion, than in thus permitting what would produce such inestimable benefits to lie idle to decorate an idol. Innumerable were the jewels, and objects in gold, silver, and other precious materials, that hung round the walls of the sanctuary; giving it more the appearance of a glittering toy-shop, than of a place meant for religious worship.
The Bambino, too, is decorated by many a gem of great value. This image is less dingy than that of the Madonna, yet reflects no credit on the skill of the saintly sculptor to whom it is attributed.
The history of the Santa Casa is inscribed on the walls of the church which enshrines it, in many languages, and copies of it may be purchased for a trifle. It states that this was the identical house in which the blessed Virgin was born ; that it stood in a lane in Nazareth, and after a long lapse of time a was, in 1291, conveyed by angels from Galilee to Tersato; and thence, in a few years after, to Recanati, the trees and shrubs of which place are said to have bowed their heads lowly on the approach of the sacred edifice.
The dangers to which the pilgrims who resorted to offer their homage at this shrine, were exposed to from the brigands in the neighbourhood, rendered the spot unworthy of any longer possessing such a treasure ; and the angels again removed it. The new site chosen for it was not found more fitting than the two former, for the avarice of the owners, two brothers, led to a quarrel about the division of the profits to be derived from the pious votaries of the Santa Casa, which terminated in a duel, the result of which was as fatal as the mortal fray between the Kilkenny cats, both combatants having been killed.
To permit the house to remain any longer on a spot stained by such a sinful proceeding, a proceeding too, instigated by its possession, was deemed impossible; hence it was transported through the air to its present situation, to be as the relazione istorico of Loretto declares, “ Il piu bel vanto della nostra Italia."
The heterogeneous mixture of saints and sibyls introduced in the decoration of the Casa Santa, has a very extraordinary effect, and greatly deteriorates
from the air of sanctity that one expects to find in the place. The introduction of the sibyls reminds one more of pagan rites and superstitions than of Christian worship; but he who would hint this truth to those who show the Santissima Casa, must possess more desire for argument, and a greater volubility to sustain it, than falls to the lot of most travellers ; so susceptible are the guardians of the shrine relative to its sanctity being questioned.
Addison imagines that the veneration paid by the ancient Romans to the hurnble abode of Romulus, on the Mount Capitol, led to the history of the Santa Casa, and the adoration which it receives. One advantage, however, has been derived from the credence accorded to this pretended miracle, namely, the vast sums it has drawn to Loretto; but whether this advantage can compensate for the encouragement given to superstition by the adoption of the fiction, is a question for casuists to resolve; and this
; glittering shrine, with its costly toys, promises long to offer an example of the cupidity that led to the invention of the fable, and the credulity that has caused so implicit a belief in it during so long a period.
The spicery is not the least interesting portion of this building. It is arranged somewhat like a library, the shelves, instead of books, bearing some hundred gallipots, on which are painted scriptural subjects from designs by Raffaelle and Giulio Romano. Some of them are very fine, but the form of the vases
deteriorates from the beauty, by the disagreeable associations they recall; and one regrets that such spirited drawings should not have been perpetuated on more pleasingly-shaped utensils.
The Lady of Loretto, like most other fine ladies, has had a vast expenditure assigned for her servitors, though she herself partakes of none of the good things provided. Her treasury, her cellar, and her spicery, like theirs, would indicate the physical wants of a mundane personage ; and the ample provision of these luxuries proves that she, no more than earthly women, is thought to be exempt from a partiality to them. What a coarse ạnd vulgar notion to entertain of the pure and holy Madonna, that fair ideal of all that is most exquisite, is it, to believe her propitiated by jewels, fine clothes, gold lamps, spices, and rare wines !
Various were the pretty toys in silver filigree, ivory, and gold, offered to us for sale by the proprietor of the inn where we stopped, each and all bearing some symbol of the Madonna, or of her dwelling when on earth. Chaplets already blessed, formed of every material, were displayed, from lapislazuli set in gold, down to ebony and more simple box-wood, with medallions on which were engraved images of the Madonna and infant Jesus. Divers articles for the toilette, made of silver filigree, such as boxes, pincushions, and tablet cases, were displayed, each bearing some holy symbol ; the Virgin, or her blessed Son, being placed as presiding em