The Oratory of Loretino
The Oratory of Loretino , built at the end of the thirteenth century inside the Palazzo Comunale as the private Chapel of the governors, became a very important site of worship for the people of San Miniato from 1399 when it came to house the wooden image of the most holy Crucifix, popularly considered to posses miraculous powers. Legend holds that the simulacrum was brought to San Miniato by two misterius travelers, possibly two angels, who left in the house of a poor widow shut up in a casket which at night emanated an "arcane" light.
The decision to house the Crucifix in the Palatine Chapel was followed by that of closing off the area of the presbytery with a railing in wrought iron, a precious Gothic style artifact decorated with gilded vegetable shoots (an inscription bears the engraved name of the smith who made it, the Sienese artist Conte Orlandi) Several decades later , in the early fifteenth century, as a further adornment of the area it was decided to decorate the walls of the caphel with a fresco decoration portraying on the left wall scenes from the childhood of Christ (the Nativity, the Massacre of the Innocents. The Adoration of the Magi, and another non-identified scene which was reworked at a later date) ,and on the right scenes from the Passion (the Last Supper ,the Agony in the Garden ,the Capture of Christ and the Flagellation ).In the sails of the cross vault set within medallions that stand out against a sky blue background ,are illustrations of two figures that prophesied the coming of Christ the Erythraean Sybil and King David, and those who left witness of the same through the Scriptures, that is the Four Evangelists. In 1527 the rear wall of the Oratory was embellished by a magnificient altar in gilded wood, executed by the Florentine engravers Luca and Bastiano, composed of reliefs showing sphinxes, tritons and other fantastic elements belonging to a profane rather than religious language. It consists of five niches containing panels painted by Francesco Lanfranchi , known as Spillo, brother of the more famous Andrea del Sarto: the two niches at the end of show the two patron saints of the town ,San Genesio on the right and San Miniato on the left. In the central section are the Annunciation and two Angels facing towards the central niche, which up to the eighteenth century housed the venerated Crucifix, protected by a door painted with the Risen Christ by the same artist. In 1718,in fact, the precious cross was moved to the Sanctuary specially built to house it, constructed opposite the Palazzo Comunale. Painted in the predella are scenes that integrate the story of the Passion illustrated on the walls,portraying,from the left the Way to Calvary, the Deposition, the Entombment, and the Noli me tangere, while the two scenes at the ends illustrate the martyrdom of the two saints shown above .After the crucifix was moved to the new church, a wooden statue of the Madonna of Loreto was placed in the central niche ,thus giving the chapel its present name. Despite the deterioration of some of the frescoed scenes, the Chapel continues to be one of the most evocative sites of the town, a casket of mediaeval and Renaissance artistic treasures that bear witness to the continuity of worship down the centuries.