The Miracle of the Holy House of Loreto
THE MOST TREASURED and venerated Shrine of our Lady throughout the world is that of the Holy House of Nazareth in the Basilica at Loreto, Italy. And rightly so, for according to tradition, to testimonies of Popes and Saints this is where the "recreation"-----our redemption-----began. Over the past several centuries, people from all parts of the world have traveled to this shrine to pray and seek Our Lady's help. Thousands of miracles attributed to Our Lady have been recorded at Loreto.
The tradition and history of the Holy House goes back to Apostolic times. From the earliest days of Christianity, the little house and the grotto which formed one side of the Holy House have been a place of worship and pilgrimage. Shortly after the year 313, Constantine the Great had a large Basilica built over the Holy House of Nazareth. The Holy House and the grotto formed part of the crypt of the new church. About the year 1090, the Saracens invaded the Holy Land, plundering and destroying many of the shrines sacred to Christians. One of these was the Basilica in Nazareth, but the Holy House and grotto in the crypt were left intact.
When St. Francis of Assisi visited the Holy Land (1219-1220) he prayed at the Holy House. St. Louis IX, King of France, also visited and received Holy Communion in the shrine when he was leading a crusade to liberate the Holy Land from the Moslems. Another Basilica was built during the 12th century to protect the Holy House and offer ample room for pilgrims. This second Basilica was destroyed when the Moslems overpowered the crusaders in 1263. Again the Holy House escaped destruction and was left intact under the ruins of the Basilica. Finally, in 1291 the crusaders were completely driven out of the Holy Land and it was at this point in history that the Holy House disappeared from Palestine and made its appearance in what is now known as present day Croatia, where a most important shrine was erected, Our Lady of Trsat (Tersatto in Italian pronunciation).
Tradition tells us that on May 10, 1291, the Holy House of Nazareth was raised from its foundations in Nazareth and transported by Angels across the Mediterranean from Palestine to Dalmatia to the small town of Tersatto. The pastor of the Church of St. George, at Tersatto, Alexander Georgevich, was puzzled by the sudden presence of what looked like a tiny church and prayed for enlightenment. His prayers were answered when the Blessed Virgin appeared to him in sleep and told him that this was indeed the Holy House of Nazareth where the Annunciation took place and it was brought here through the power of God. To confirm what she was telling him, he would be restored to health. At that moment, Father Alexander was cured of an illness which he had suffered for many years.
With the Moslems taking over Albania in 1294 and the possibility of profanation, the House disappeared from Tersatto. According to some shepherds, it was seen on December 10, 1294, being borne aloft by Angels across the Adriatic sea and came to rest in a wooded area four miles from Recanati, Italy. The news spread fast and thousands came to examine the tiny house which resembled a church. The House became a place of pilgrimage and many miracles took place there. Bandits from the nearby wooded area began to plague the pilgrims, so the House was borne to a safer spot a short distance away. But the spot where the House was finally to rest was still not settled since the two brothers who owned the land were quarreling. The House was moved a third time to the site it now occupies. The brothers became reconciled as soon as the House settled in its final location. Incidentally, wherever it landed, the Holy House rested miraculously on the ground, without a foundation.
Once again miracles attended the presence of the House, and the townspeople sent a deputation of men to Tersatto and then to Nazareth to determine for certain the origin of the Holy House. Sixteen men, all reliable citizens, took with them measurements and full details of the House, and after several months arrived back with the report that in their opinion, the House had really come from Nazareth.
Over the centuries, many Pontiffs have testified to the authenticity of the Holy House and the miracles that have been attributed to it. The devotion and respect of the Pontiffs for the Holy House may be gathered from the numerous indulgences granted to those visiting the Holy House. The first were granted by Pope Benedict XII, then followed by Urban VI who granted certain indulgences for the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These indulgences were confirmed by Popes Boniface IX and Martin V: An enumeration of the many popes over the centuries that have shown special interest and support of the authenticity of Loreto by their words and actions in.
. . . Wherever there is a genuine shrine of Our Lady or miraculous image, you may be sure there will be many miracles. This is particularly true at the Holy House, where there have been so many they no longer are recorded. In fact, three popes were miraculously cured at the shrine of the Holy House of Loreto.
More than two thousand persons who have been canonized, beatified or made venerable by the Church have visited the Holy House. St. Therese of Lisieux made a momentous pilgrimage before entering the Carmelites, to which she alludes at length in her autobiography. St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Frances Cabrini, Cardinal Newman, St. John Neumann, and St. Francis de Sales, to name but a few, have visited the Holy House.
St. Francis of Assisi in the early years of the 13th century established a monastery at Sirolo, north of Recanati. To a group of puzzled friars, Francis foretold that before the close of that century, a sanctuary would be built near there which would be more renowned than Rome or Jerusalem and that the faithful would come from all over the world to visit this Holy Sanctuary. This prophecy proved true when the Holy House of Loreto arrived on Dec. 10, 1294
Loreto: Sanctuary of the Incarnation
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This image hangs in the Chapel of the Dukes of Urbino, in one of the side chapels of the Basilica of Loreto. There are more than 25 side chapels, each a masterpiece of the Catholic Faith. The Annunciation is a popular image in the chapels because the Holy House of Loreto which is actually Mary's House of Nazareth is so closely associated with the First Mystery of the Rosary.
THE SANCTUARY of Loreto has always been regarded as the greatest Sanctuary of the Christian West. Practically all the Supreme Pontiffs from the year 1330 to John Paul II have considered it so. As such it has been venerated by thousands upon thousands of the faithful coming from every land who come to kiss the walls of what was at one time the Holy House of Nazareth.
This Sanctuary, the glory and pride of Italy, is truly a part of the Holy Land. It is the first temple of the living God on earth, the sanctuary of sanctuaries, the temporal paradise on earth. "Hic Verbum caro factum est" (Here the Word was made flesh.) The thrill that pervades the pilgrim who reads these words is not a simple emotion but an indefinable and irresistible attraction towards the heights of the Infinite.
In coming to the Loreto Basilica for the first time, no one thinks of the imposing lines of the basilica, of the cupola of Sangallo, of the marble structure that surrounds the Holy House [see images listed on the directory page, loreto.htm]; no one recalls the beautiful facade, the beautiful fountains, the welcoming double Loggia of the apostolic palace that encloses the square of Roman serenity. The apses of the chapels rise as gigantic bulwarks crowned by a passage for sentinels dominating the hills and the sea. Are enemy armies coming by land? Are pirates still threatening from the sea? No. The formidable towers of the apses defend and hide the rectangular structure of sculptured marble that portrays prophets and Angels, the biblical world and the classical world, foretelling the Incarnation. And this jewel of art in turn protects and conceals the poor room recalling to mind the great mystery of Mary. "Hic Verbum caro factum est."
These bare and naked walls heard the "yes" of Mary, that mysterious assent which opened Paradise to misfortunate humanity, stained and wounded by Original and actual sin. It saw the flourishing infancy and adolescence of Jesus, the serene work of Joseph, the sweet and gentle relations of the Holy Family. That humble and unknown girl from a humble and unknown land was greeted as "full of grace." Here, she heard the eternal God ask her consent to fulfill the greatest mystery of all time-----the Incarnation of the Word. God had chosen her alone because of her humble virginity and her virginal humility to be the "light of the East"-----so sang the Prophets-----from which the Redeemer would appear in the world. And the Word of God was made flesh through her liberating words: "Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum." (Be it done to me according to Thy Word.") At the creation of the universe, the "fiat" of the omnipotent God was enough. For the redemption of mankind, God asked the "fiat" of this little Virgin, His favored and Immaculate One, so that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity could be made man, through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. It was in this Holy House of Loreto, transplanted miraculously from Nazareth, that the eternal Word was made flesh. Indeed, as Pope Pius XI expressed it, this shrine "holds the first place among all the churches dedicated to the Mother of God." Thus, we are children of two "fiats": created by the first, redeemed by the second and therefore sons of God and sons of the Virgin. From the "fiat" of God, our human nature was created, from the "fiat" of Nazareth, grace was restored. Here then was accomplished the greatest event in history for Christ is indeed the center of the universe, of history, of theology, of all life. Vito Fornari writes: "The universe inasmuch as it is a mystery knows and explains everything, because everything is a sign of Christ-----or yearning for Christ; He is the reason and truth of everything. He is the ultimate purpose for the entire planetary system as well as for the atom, for the human species as well as for a blade of grass or a flower." History shows everything in the continuous advancing of the ship of Christ: "from the lake of Tiberias to the Mediterranean Sea, to the ocean; from the ocean to the infinite heavens without distinction of worlds or succession of time." And French poet Peguy adds: "The incarnation, this eternal adventure of God, of the Word, is the only interesting story." Full of emotion we therefore enter the Holy House and with the faith of love and the love of faith let us kiss those burnished walls, brighter and clearer than the sun.
The Saints and Loreto LORETO enshrines the original home of the holiest persons who walked the earth: the God-Man Jesus Christ, His mother Mary, and the virginal father, St. Joseph. Therefore, it should not be surprising that this sanctuary should attract Saints. There is a marble plaque in the basilica on which are carved the names of thirty-nine saints and twenty-two other holy persons who came on pilgrimage to Loreto. In 1846, there were one hundred and sixty names. One hundred and fifty years later that number must have easily doubled.
Among the more famous and well-known saints are SS. Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier, John Berchmans, Stanislaus Kostka, Francis Borgia, Charles Borromeo, Francis of Paula, Francis de Sales, Bernardine of Siena, John of Capistrano, Lawrence of Brindisi, Philip Neri, Camillus de Lellis, Louis Guanella, Robert Bellarmine, Gabriel Possenti, Clement Hofbauer, Brigit of Sweden, Madaleine Sophie Barat, Alphonsus Liguori, Louis Grignon de Montfort, Aloysius Gonzaga, John Bosco and Therese of Lisieux. Blessed Anthony Grassi came to the shrine fifty times. The Holy Spirit obviously is the archenemy of the devil, the father of lies. The favored friends of the Holy Spirit, the Saints, in whom he took up His abode in a very special way, loved the truth and were rarely taken in by the father of lies. So when we see a vast array of these intimate friends of God visiting the Holy House of Loreto to pay their homage and pray at the very place where the Word was made flesh, we cannot help but be further impressed at its authenticity. No other Marian shrine in the world can boast of such an array of Saints and holy souls visiting its sacred precincts.
If one were to single out a Saint who was particularly attached to Loreto, it would seem that the pilgrim saint, Benedict Joseph Labre, would have first place. After finding out that his vocation was to be a rather exceptional one-----literally a pilgrim beggar-----Benedict left his home in France in 1770 for Rome at age twenty-two. On this first journey, he stopped on his way at Loreto and Assisi. He stayed in Rome for nine months visiting all the holy places, but was back in Loreto in September of the following year. In June 1772, he was back again at Loreto. He then extended his pilgrimages to all the famous shrines in Europe. At the end of 1776, he settled down in Rome, leaving only to make an occasional pilgrimage to his favorite shrine, the Holy House. He continued this each year until his death in 1783 at the age of 35.
The people of Loreto came to know him well. He was that beggar who lived on the charity of others, refusing to take any more than necessary to fill his immediate needs. When compassionate friends offered him a room closer to the shrine, he turned it down when he found it contained a bed. Surely the poverty and utter detachment of the Holy Family of Nazareth was reflected in a most outstanding way in this Saint who spent many long vigils of prayer in the Holy House.
Newman's Acceptance of Loreto
If the Holy Spirit cannot err in the testimony of a vast number of Saints, neither can He in the testimony of the approbation and honors paid the Shrine by Rome. This was the line of reasoning used by the learned English convert of the last century, Cardinal Newman. The moving enthusiasm with which he expressed his devotion to the Mother of God and the Catholic Church is beautifully recorded in these words written in 1848 and 1884:
"I went to Loreto with a simple faith, believing what I still believe, even more so after having seen. Now I no longer have any doubts. If you ask me why I believe it, it is because everyone believes it in Rome-----cautious and skeptical as they are in many other things. I believe it as I believe that there is a planet called Neptune, or that chloroform destroys the sense of pain. I have no prior difficulties on this point."
"The reason we passed through Bologna was that we had gone to Loreto. We went there to ask for the Virgin's blessing. I have always been under her shadow, if I may so express myself. My college was dedicated to Mary, as well as my church; and when I went to Littlemore, there, by my previous arrangement, our Blessed Lady was waiting for me. Nor has she done little for me in that poor house, which I always think of with emotion."
It was thought that St. Maximilian Kolbe never visited Loreto. Our Lady, however, always manages to bring to what was her home while on earth those who revere and venerate her in a special way. It comes as no surprise, then, to learn from the Mass register of the Basilica that he participated in a Mass along with thirty priests from Yugoslavia on July 13,1919. The following day, the feast of the Franciscan theologian St. Bonaventure, he celebrated Mass within the Holy house itself. And so another name, a modem day Saint, has been added to the list of Saints and holy persons who have visited the shrine of Loreto. Undoubtedly there will be many more as time goes on, paying their respects and drawing inspiration from the holiest House in this world.