Litany of Loreto
5th June, 2020
All of the RSN Archive Collection pieces are donated and we are extremely grateful to have received some amazing and beautifully worked pieces over the years. This week we are sharing with you the story behind our Litany of Loreto pieces.
In the 1970s, the Mayfield Convent in Surrey, England, was closing and donated twelve striking pieces which are referred to as the ‘Litany of Loreto’ series, on the understanding that the RSN conserved them and looked after them. They were initially put in safe storage until they were brought out for remounting and reframing in the 1990s, made possible by our RSN Friends, and they then went on display at The Knitting & Stitching Shows – special duvet-like bags were even made to protect them!
Various forms of the Litany of the Virgin Mary have developed over the centuries and in 1587 a version was officially recognised by the Vatican which was then recited at the ‘Basilica della Santa Casa’ (The Sanctuary of the Holy House of Loreto) in Loreto on the east coast of Italy each Saturday. This litany has since been used throughout the Roman Catholic Church. The Basilica has been a major pilgrimage site since the late 13th century when a small cottage, believed to have been lived in by the Blessed Virgin Mary, was said to have appeared nearby having been miraculously transported from Nazareth to Ancona, Italy, and so the Basilica was built to mark the site.
Litany of Loreto – Consolatrix Afflictorum – Comforter of the Afflicted
We knew little about the designer of the pieces up until the end of 2016 when we were contacted by an American Professor Emeritus who identified the designs as by an Italian graphic designer, Ezio Annichini. Annichini trained at the Florence School of Art in 1900. His day job was to create covers for magazines and between 1915-20 he created his sacred series based on the Catholic Litany of Loreto. However, finding this out only led to more questions as we continue to wonder how did these embroideries come to be made from the original designs and, as there were many more drawings, were there any more embroideries and if so where?
Setting aside these questions, the pieces themselves are stunning for the quality of the embroidery such as the fine use of gold thread, and for the way they have used a limited colour palette. The Goldwork is in different sizes of Japanese thread and in the main embroidery there is a mixture of filoselle and fine floss; where the effect is shiny this indicates floss, where slightly duller, filoselle. The stitches are mostly long and short, outlines are in stem stitch and split stitch, with straight stitches, satin stitch and French knots, occasionally to give a more three–dimensional look.
The Litany of Loreto is a devotion of the Virgin Mary in which Mary is identified by 48 different titles.
The twelve pieces begin with:
- Sancta Maria, Ora pro nobis / Holy Mary Pray for Us
And then follow 11 of the 48 titles conferred upon Mary in the Litany:
- Sancta Dei Genitrix / Holy Mother of God
- Mater Inviolate / Mother Inviolate
- Mater Intemerata / Mother Undefiled
- Mater Amabilis / Mother most Amiable (pictured below)
- Virgo Clemens / Virgin most Merciful
- Virgo Fidelis / Virgin most Faithful
- Speculum Justitiae / Mirror of Justice
- Salus Infirmorum / Helper (Health) of the Sick
- Consolatrix Afflictorum / Comforter of the Afflicted (pictured above)
- Auxilium Christianorum / Help of Christians
- Regina Sanctorum Omnium / Queen of all the Saints
As embroideries these are remarkable pieces and the RSN is honoured to have these 12 special pieces as ‘treasures’ in our Collection, and we are sharing two of them with you this week.
Litany of Loreto – Mater Amabilis – Mother most Amiable
For Worship and Glory Exhibition — Part 2
As we all need something to look forward to, please note in your diary that next year our exhibition ‘For Worship and Glory’ will return to Ely Cathedral…and next time it will be ‘Part 2’, showing unseen donated pieces which we have received in more recent years, alongside some of our classic ecclesiastical collection. The exhibition will be open from 25 February to 25 March 2021 so watch this space for further information!
The RSN’s ‘For Worship and Glory’ catalogue is available from the RSN Online Shop in which you will find pictures of all twelve of our Litany of Loreto pieces as well as pictures and narrative on more than fifty other religious pieces that we have in our Collection.