Continuing with our visit to the church of San Pantalon…when you leave the Capella del Santo Chiodo, turn right and go back to this very quiet and dark oratory. It’s a recreation of the Santa Casa (Holy House) that can be found in Loreto, Italy.
This is another great story. The Santa Casa was Mary’s house in Nazareth, where she was born and grew up, and where the Annunciation took place. Her house was a Holy Land place of pilgrimage for centuries but then in the 13th century, angels swooped in, picked the house up, and moved it to Italy. In some versions of the story, it stopped off in Croatia and elsewhere first, but it‘s now in Loreto where they built a basilica around it. A photo of the Basilica of Loreto and a more complete version of the story is here. December 10 (this weekend) will be the annual celebration of the house’s flight to Loreto.
Evidently, there’s some scientific evidence that the Santa Casa really did come from Nazareth, and some think that “human” angels dismantled it and brought it to Italy after the Holy Land fell into Muslim hands in the Middle Ages. And in the early 20th century, the Madonna di Loreto became the patron saint of pilots; Charles Lindbergh carried her image with him across the Atlantic and she also went on an Apollo mission to the moon.
So in the 18th century, the Venetians decided to re-create the Santa Casa in the church of San Pantalon. The oratory was consecrated on March 25, 1744 (no accident on this choice of dates, I’m sure, since March 25 is the feast of the Annunciation and also the day that Venice was founded in 421).
The Black Madonna on the altar is a copy of the one in Loreto; the inscription on the altar screen translates to “And the Word is Made Flesh.” The frescoes were done by Pietro Longhi, best known for his charming scenes of 18th century Venetian daily life. It’s a strange and fascinating little place; I loved visiting it.