Franciscan monks of the Salvatorian Province built the Monastery and Church of St Barbara outside the gates of the old town at the start of the 18th century. The foundation stone was laid in 1723. The church and its interior are a unique example of a Baroque sacral space where the furniture has been kept almost completely intact.
Archive sources indicate that today’s Loretto chapel was created around 1731-32 on the site of the monastery’s original gatehouse. Construction was financed by Eva Horváthová of Budatín Castle, the widow of Ladislav Suňog. She donated 500 florins. The altars in the nave of the church and in the chapel were designed by Anton Veisman, a famous organ maker from Frýdek.
The Franciscan Loretto at Žilina is an example of a chapel built within a monastery complex. It was not built immediately during the construction of the church but six years after its completion. The Loretto chapel has a rectangular floor plan with north-south orientation with entrances on the east and west sides. From the west the chapel is entered from the church and on the east from a narrow corridor that connects to the cloister around the paradise garden. It is illuminated by a window on the south wall. The ceiling is a barrel vault. The north wall of the chapel with the Loretto altar is fully plastered while the south and east walls have exposed brickwork with irregular plastering.
The Loretto altar is placed against the north wall of the chapel. The pilastered architecture around the altar creates a frame for the central niche in the wall terminated with a conch, in which a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary is displayed. The original furniture of the chapel includes a wooden altar in the shape of a tomb. On its top is a black altar stone in a simple wooden frame. On the bottom is a handwritten Latin inscription: “Church of the Žilina Convent, for the chapel of the Roman martyrs Aurelius and Martial.”
The statue of the Virgin Mary resembles but is not fully in line with the medieval tradition of black Madonna figures. The Žilina statues is dressed in a conical cloak from which only the crowned heads of the Virgin and the Christ Child and the Christ Child’s hands emerge. Jesus’s right hand makes a blessing and his left hand holds another royal insignia – the orb with a Greek cross. The faces of the Virgin and the Christ Child have distinctive large, almond-shaped eyes, full cheeks, smiling lips and a pronounced Gothic chin, probably intended to be reminiscent of medieval statuary. They have Baroque hairstyles, however. Mary has long strands arranged into a complex design incorporating pearls and cut stones. Jesus has short curls that are combed back.
An important discovery was made during the restoration of the chapel – an original Baroque figural wall painting was identified. These finds radically transformed the restoration process. they made it possible to trace the form of a partition wall for the altar that had been lost in the past and return the chapel to its original appearance. The find is exceptional not just for the quality of the wall paintings but also because it is the only find of this type in the town. The wall paintings show scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus and other saints. The paintings are noteworthy for their fine detail, depth and three-dimensional representation.
The altar dedicated to Our Lady of Loretto is part of the unique Baroque interior of the Franciscan monastery in Žilina, which is important on more than just the regional level. The Žilina Loretto has been restored in a fitting manner as a representative of a specific phenomenon of Marian devotion in our territory from the High Baroque period.
Source: Mgr. Vladimír Majtán