Holy House of Loreto

by Maria Madise

During Advent, it is fitting to contemplate a house which is now in Loreto but used to be in Nazareth. It was the birthplace of Our Lady and the place where the Archangel Gabriel announced that she was chosen by God to be the Mother of the Word Incarnate. It was also the home of the Holy Family after their return from Egypt and so it was the home for Our Lord until He started His public life. Considering that this was the setting for such marvellous things, it should not be incredible that this house itself was miraculously transported by angels from the Holy Land to Europe.

A brief consideration of its journey shows how Divine Providence arranged its relocation. The Holy House in Nazareth was a place of worship from the early days of Christianity. St Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, made a pilgrimage to Nazareth in 336 and ordered that a basilica be built over the home of the Holy Family. 

The basilica was destroyed by Saracens in the 11th century, rebuilt and destroyed again by Muslims in the 13th century, but both times the holy house was found intact under the rubble. 

When the crusaders were driven out of the Holy Land in 1291, threatened with destruction by the Turks, the Holy House disappeared. 

The house did not go to Loreto directly. On 10 May 1291, it appeared miraculously in Tersatto which is in present-day Croatia. The local population did not know how to explain its incredible appearance. As recounted by Prof Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, their bishop, who was gravely ill, had prayed to the Virgin Mary that he might be strong enough to go and see the house for himself, and the Mother of God appeared to him, surrounded by angels, saying:

“My son, you have called for me, and here I am. I came to give you succour and to reveal to you the mystery [of the translation of the Holy House] which you desire to know. The holy dwelling is the very house where I was born and raised. It was there that I received the good news brought by the Archangel Gabriel and conceived the Divine Infant by the operation of the Holy Ghost. It was there that the Word was made flesh. 

“After my death, the Apostles consecrated this dwelling, illustrious for its great mysteries, and sought the honour of celebrating the August Sacrifice there. The altar is the very one that the Apostle Peter erected; the crucifix was placed there by the Apostles. The small cedar statue is an image of me made by the Evangelist Luke, who, moved by his attachment and affection for me, expressed through his art my features as perfectly as possible for a mortal. 

“This beloved house, so dear to Heaven, highly honoured for many centuries in Galilee but today deprived of due homage by the general decay of the Faith, has been transported from Nazareth to these lands. The author of this great event is God, for whom nothing is impossible. 

“For you to bear witness to all that I am telling you now, you will suddenly be cured and return to full health after the long illness you have borne, so that through you all will believe in this miracle.” 1

In 1294, when the Muslims invaded Albania, the house disappeared again. According to the local shepherds, it was seen on 10 December being flown by angels over the Adriatic Sea. This time the Holy House landed in a wooded area near Recanati in Italy. As the news spread, thousands flocked there, and many miracles took place at the site. Twice again the house was moved before coming to rest in the town of Loreto in Italy that is its present location. 

The translation, carried out by angels, has been recognised by popes and sustained by saints, is also corroborated by research into historical documentation and archaeological evidence, which confirmed that no human method or technology explains this miraculous translation. Furthermore, detailed research of scientists demonstrates that it would be far more miraculous for human hands to have performed this translation than for it to be the work of angels: desired by God, for whom nothing is impossible.

The house in Loreto is a small building made from materials commonly used for simple houses in the Holy Land, but not in Italy. It has no foundations. The walls rest on a plot that was partly field and partly road, which is an indication that it was not built but placed there. The foundations of the Holy House remain in Nazareth. Several delegations were sent there and declared that the measurements of the house in Loreto corresponded perfectly to the foundations of the house of Nazareth. 

Today a great basilica houses the dwelling of the Holy Family, which is enclosed in a large marble box, commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1509. As pilgrims approach the holy house, they read on the threshold: Hic Verbum caro factum est” — “Here the Word became flesh”. The ancient statue of Our Lady holding the Infant Jesus, known as Our Lady of Loreto, is above the altar in the holy house.

In 1624, Pope Urban VIII established 10 December as the Feast of the Translation of the Holy House of Mary, Mother of God. Each year, on 9 December, many towns in the area build bonfires in their public squares to light the way of the angels carrying the Holy House to Loreto. Precisely at midnight church bells are rung to celebrate their arrival. 

The Holy House of Nazareth is also known in England in a special way. The shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham was established in 1061 when, according to the Pynson Ballad (c. 1485), a local noblewoman, Richeldis de Faverches, prayed that she might undertake some special work in honour of Our Lady. In answer to her prayer, the Blessed Virgin led her in spirit to Nazareth and showed her the house where our Redemption began with her “Fiat”. The Blessed Virgin asked her to build a replica in Walsingham to give witness to the Annunciation for all the ages to come. 

Walsingham, England’s Nazareth, became one of the greatest shrines in medieval Christendom and a popular destination for pilgrims, including the crowned heads. It remained a place of devotion throughout penal times and beyond. Today Walsingham attracts thousands of pilgrims each year to pray for the fulfilment of what was revealed by Pope Leo XIII: “When England returns to Walsingham, Our Lady will return to England.”

When visiting the house of the Holy Family in our contemplation this Advent, we could reflect on the words of Prof Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: 

“… [L]et us turn our minds to that sacred place and ask Our Lady to give us a greater understanding of, and admiration for, the private life of Our Lord as he lived in that House, obedient to St Joseph and the Blessed Virgin. Then, let us pray that, in imitation of Our Lord, we might have a more profound and intense dependence on Our Lady.”

  1. Prof Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira “Translation of the Holy House to Loreto December 10” https://www.traditioninaction.org/SOD/j255sd_Loreto_12_10.html