The Holy House in Loreto
For anyone who has gone on a Catholic pilgrimage to the Holy Land, visiting the Basilica of the Annunciation in the city of Nazareth, the home of Jesus Christ and the Holy Family is one of the key stops along the pilgrimage trail. The modern basilica is itself a sight to behold; its cavernous two-tiered interior chambers are like no other church in the Middle East. At the center of the church is part of the stone home of the Holy Family, identified as such through church tradition, and the archaeological remains of various churches built over the structure through the ages. Yet what many pilgrims who visit this holy site do not realize is that the remains of the “Holy House” as it is called in Catholic tradition, have not been lost, but are rather to be found in the Basilica della Santa Casa in Loreto, Italy.
The Miracle of the Holy House
How the Holy House came from Nazareth in the Holy Land to this small seaside nestled between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea is quite a remarkable story. Tradition holds that on the evening of May 9th, 1294, virtually the entire structure of the Holy House was miraculously transported by angels from Nazareth to Trsat, in Dalmatia of modern-day Croatia to a wooded region near Recanti, Italy until finally resting at its current site, which at the time was an open space (the place-name Loreto is derived from the Italian word for “woods” and/or possibly the owner of the wooded glen, a woman by name of Laureta). News of the traveling Holy House quickly spread across Christendom, and following a Papal investigation, was declared as a genuine miracle.
The Holy House quickly became a popular place of pilgrimage, and during the late 16th century, a stately Gothic-style Basilica was created around the Holy House.
Superstition or True Miracle?
In later centuries, many historians and church skeptics scoffed at the story of the “floating house” as an example of Medieval Catholic superstition. Yet in recent years, modern scientific studies have repeatedly proven that the bricks and stones of the Holy House are in fact from the Nazareth region in the Holy Land, with even the mortar being identified as not from Italy but Nazareth. Furthermore, the measurements and layout of the Holy House are compatible with the foundations and remaining structure found in Nazareth.
A common explanation given to explain the relocation of the house is that it was dismantled and reassembled by an Italian noble family called “Angeli” – hence the story of angelic transportation – out of an interest to save the Holy House from being destroyed at the end of the Crusader Era in the Holy Land. However, many faithful maintain that the Holy House was miraculously transported, pointing to the unusual nature of the foundations underneath its present locations and the logistical and architectural impracticalities involved with disassembling, transporting and reassembling and rebuilding the structure in its entirety during the tumultuous and pre-industrial late 13th century.
A Staple for Pilgrimages
Whether by miracle of Angels or an impressive technological feat, the Holy House has been a staple of pilgrimages in Italy for centuries. The basilica is richly decorated with frescos, bronze doors and statuary, while the Holy House has an exquisite marble relief exterior frame. Yet the Holy House itself, home to a simple family of Nazarene carpenters and consecrated as one of the first Christian churches by the Twelve Apostles, captures the essence of both European Catholic devotion to the Holy Land mixed with the very stones and earth of Nazareth.
The Feast of Our Lady of Loreto was declared by Pope Pius XI in 1922, and is celebrated on December 10th. In recognition of the tradition of the miraculous transportation of the Holy House, Our Lady of Loreto is also the patroness of air travelers and pilots.
To visit the Holy House at the Basilica della Santa Casa in Loreto during your Good Shepherd Pilgrimage to Rome and Italy, contact Tony at Tony@goodshepherdtravel.com. Don’t forget to pray to Our Lady of Loretto that your flight may be a safe and blessed occurrence!