Loreto, Or Loretto, a town of Italy, in the province of Macerata, 3 m. from the Adriatic and 12 m. S. of Ancona; pop. about 10,000. It is chiefly celebrated as the site of the Casa Santa, or holy house, in which, according to local tradition, the Virgin Mary was born, the annunciation and incarnation took place, and the holy family resided on their return from Egypt. The legend is that the house was transported by angels in 1291 from Nazareth to Tersate on the E. coast of the Adriatic, and thence in 1294 to the coast of Italy near Recanati. Eight months afterward it was again removed to the lands of a lady named Lauretta, from whom the town, built on the site for the accommodation of pilgrims, takes its name. Another legend says that the holy house was placed in a grove of laurels, whence the name Loreto. The Casa Santa is a rudely built brick house, 13 1/2 ft. high, 27 1/2 ft. long, and 12 1/2 ft. wide, with one door and one window. In a niche over the fireplace is an ancient image of the Virgin, said to have been made of the cedar of Lebanon, and attributed to St. Luke. It was taken away by the French, Feb. 10, 1797, carried to Paris, restored by Napoleon to Pius VII., and by him enriched with precious stones and returned to Loreto, Dec. 9, 1802. The relics, treasures, and offerings of different pilgrims are numerous and valuable.
The house is enclosed in a marble casing designed by Bramante, and covered with exquisite sculptures in relief. This shrine is in the church called Chiesa della Santa Casa, built by Sixtus V., and entered by three superb bronze doors, with bass-reliefs representing Scriptural scenes. The bell tower is of great height, and the bell weighs 22,000 lbs. Other objects of attraction are a bronze statue of the Virgin and child, by Girolamo Lombardo, over the main entrance, and the font in bronze ornamented with bass-reliefs. The chapels are profusely decorated with carvings, mosaics, arabesques, and frescoes. On one side of the church is a convent of the Jesuits, and on the other side the Palazzo Apostolico, the residence of the bishop and of the governor while the province formed a part of the Papal States. It contains many fine paintings, among which are some by Titian, Guercino, Annibale Car-racci, and Correggio. The town, which stands on a hill, and consists mainly of a single street, was strongly fortified in 1586 by Sixtus V. as a protection against pirates.