We do not know the exact year of construction of this church but it probably goes back to the end of the 16th century. The current paginated facade, and the floor plan of the building however, denote a restructuring of the building presumably attributable to the first half of the 19th century. We are also certain that at one time, beside the church, there was a gateway to the village called the "Gate of the Madonna of Loreto". The access, following the increase in population and the consequent expansion of the urban village, may have arisen along with the church itself. The church also housed the village grain stores, and was used as a burial site.
DescriptionThe church's crowned curvilinear façade is similar to the solution adopted in the late 18th century by the church of S. Rocco in Sulmona. The facade, featuring Ionic pilasters, has two elliptical windows at the top and a niche that houses the image of Our Lady of Loreto. It has a straight, crowned portal stucco, flanked by rectangular windows with moulded frames.
Above the door of the side entrance of the church you can read the following inscription: "Terribilis est locus iste et porta coeli" (taken from the book of Genesis 28:17). In the writing there is also a sign of abbreviation - translated as "three" - placed before the word "est" and after "terribilis", which would have the following meaning: "This is a three times terrible place and the gate to heaven. "
The church’s floorplan is a single hall with an apse covered by a corniced barrel vault, with panels and stucco in pastel colours. The wooden choir on the inside wall is at counterpoint to the only marble altar which is in the apse. The wooden benches are used by members of the Confraternity of St. Mary of Loreto.
The Race of the GypsiesIn 1726, the Confraternity of Our Lady of Loreto founded this race which is one of the oldest events in Abruzzo - second only to the Celestine Pardon. The "Race of the Gypsies" is a barefoot race along a rocky path that winds down from the slopes of the nearby Colle Ardingo to the River Vella and then up through the streets of the village arriving in the last few meters at the square in front of the church.
The commemoration, in which the young people of the village take part, has its roots in the ancient pagan rituals of the Peligni people, to which only later the Christian worship for Our Lady of Loreto was encorporated.
Despite what the name might suggest, a "Gypsy" here is not a homeless person but a barefoot person, one who did not even have a pair of shoes and was forced to work all day on the land of others. If on the one hand they competed in the race for the prize money and the social triumph within the village, on the other hand the barefoot descent was a real act of veneration for the Virgin Mary.
Legend has it that during the flight of Mary’s house from Nazareth to Le Marche, it was placed here on the Ardingo hill, which therefore became a place of worship and expression of the devotion of the faithful through this particular race.
The event takes place on the first Sunday of September. The competitors, once they reach the stone which is painted green, white and red at the rocky outcrop that is almost at the top of the Colle Ardingo, wait for the triple sound of the church bell the Madonna of Loreto for their departure.
It only takes about five minutes for the athletes to cover the 862 metres and reach the goal which is the church altar. They often arrive with bleeding feet and their wounds are treated immediately by the Loreto brothers with the help of medical staff.
In the past the prize for the winner was a piece of cloth which was very useful from a practical standpoint as they could have a suit made. Now the prize is symbolic and participation in the competition has taken on more of a social value.