The Authenticity of the Holy House Verified
Our illustrious Pontiff Benedict XIV, speaking, in his beautiful work on the feasts of Mary, of this Holy House of Loreto, calls it 'the dwelling in which the Divine Word assumed human flesh, and which was translated by the ministry of Angels.' He then adds, that 'its authenticity is proved as well by ancient monuments and unbroken tradition as by the testimony of Sovereign Pontiffs, the common consent of the faithful, and the continual miracles which are there worked even to the present day.' In fact Tursellin, in his History of the House of Loreto, asserts that nearly all the Popes after Pius II, have spoken of its miraculous translation; and Sixtus V, in the year 1583, instituted an order under the auspices of our Blessed Lady of Loreto.
IT IS TRUE that the authenticity of the Holy House does not constitute a dogma of faith. However, it is considered a historical fact and as such has been recognized by the sovereign pontiffs over the centuries even as other miraculous events have been acknowledged by the Church. As such there is valid reason in such instances for Catholics to respect and accept these rulings of the Church. The Church has always been cautious in its pronouncements. Many years passed before the Church officially accepted Lourdes and Fatima as supernatural events worthy of credence by all Catholics.
The documents that speak most clearly of "the translation" which brought the Holy House to Loreto belong to a period postdating the event by over a century. The Loreto Shrine originated at the start of a very politically turbulent time for Rome, the century of the Avignon exile and the Western Schism-----events which absorbed all the papal attention.
The fact that there is no contemporary historians' support for a tradition does not mean that it is unworthy of belief. Documents may perish but tradition remains. Every document could have been lost, destroyed or concealed in the archives, but that would not necessarily discredit the truth of tradition. So unless there is some undeniable challenge to Loreto's venerable tradition, we as Catholics are free to accept that tradition as approved by the Holy See on the basis of reliable documentary evidence.
What is the basis for an intelligent acceptance of the Loreto tradition that the Holy House was transported by miraculous means from Nazareth, first to Tersatto in Dalmatia, and finally to Loreto, Italy? Ours would not be the only generation wondering about that story, as the recorded facts show. Actually what makes this tradition believable is the accumulation of facts: 1. Solid valid scientific facts. 2. Original source material. 3. Written documents of its history. 4. Accepted traditions. 5. Paintings, iconography, and monuments. 6. Moral grounds.
Valid Scientific Facts
Since ours is a time of hyper-scientific consciousness, let us begin with the archeological, chemical and general technical arguments with particular emphasis on the location of the Holy House. First, Archeological: History tells us that at least three commissions were sent to Palestine at different times-----1292, 1296, 1524-----to ascertain the true facts of the House. All confirmed the fact that the size of the foundation at Nazareth corresponded to the dimensions of the Holy House at Loreto. Chemical: A chemical analysis of the stones, the mortar, and other materials of the Holy House was made in 1871 at the suggestion of Cardinal Bartolini. It was made by Professor Ratti of the University of Rome. He analyzed four stones, two from Nazareth and two from Loreto, without knowing which was which. He found their composition to be identical. They were not of a composition common to the stones around Loreto, Italy. But the idea of the stones being carried from Palestine to Loreto really challenged the scientific mind. Here was something unprecedented in history. What was so important at Loreto in the 13th century, and what power could have implemented such an inconceivable miracle? Loreto at the time of the Translation was simply a nothing, neither as a town nor as a power, such as Venice, Pisa or Amalfi were at the end of the 13th century. Location: An investigation ordered by Benedict XV (1913-22) disclosed the following: The Holy House has no foundation and does not rest on virgin soil but stands partially on a public road, partially on an adjacent field and ditch. This unlikely spot showed that the House was not built there. General technical deduction: Although there are many technical aspects to be considered, two are striking: first, the style of the Holy House is like that used at Nazareth and not at all the type common to the area around Loreto in the 13th century. Secondly, the fact that the original door was on the long wall is confirmation that the Holy House was built as a home and not as a chapel.
Original Source Material
The strongest defense of the Loreto story is derived from logic, and is based on the principle that every effect must have a cause. The sudden appearance of the Loreto sanctuary at the end of the 13th century tells us that something extraordinary happened there at that time, and not before 1250. History mentions only the Translation tradition for this area. On a deserted hill that was largely wasteland, there grew first a hamlet, and then a village and finally a city. Now this city had to have some stimulus to emerge from nothing. And wasn't this most likely because of the increasing number of pilgrims that came there? Apparently something of a rare value sustained interest. The history of Loreto does not speak of revelations or the apparition of images. It relates the story of the Translation of a very little chapel suddenly appearing there where no one had ever seen it before.
Written Documents and Historiography
Pilgrims who visited the Holy House prior to 1250, that is, at its original location in Nazareth, left reports and descriptions of it in their diaries and letters for seven centuries. They tell us that it was secure in the crypt of the basilica (built by Constantine) even after the initial Saracen destruction of the upper church. In 1291, the Crusaders were overwhelmed by the Moslems. From then on the few pilgrims permitted in the Holy Land speak only of the grotto that adjoined the House. But suddenly now a new history of the Holy House begins in Christian Europe at Loreto. In 1295 the people of Recanati, Italy built a solid wall with a strong foundation around the place of the miracles. It seems that its identification was not clear until a vision granted a local hermit in 1296. Almost immediately a commission of sixteen prominent Recanati citizens was sent to investigate the original site in Palestine. They returned with positive testimony. Within a generation pilgrims began to come in increasing numbers.
The earliest generally accepted historical documents date back to over a century after the remarkable event. They are the bull of Paul II of November 1, 1464, the first papal document to speak openly about the Translation, and the accounts of Teramano and Mantavano.
Teramano was governor of the Loreto sanctuary. He succeeded Andrew da Atri who lived at Loreto prior to the 14th century and had spoken with the children and grandchildren of those who lived there at the time of the Translation. Teramano published the first historical account of the Translation between 1460-70.
Mantavano found an anonymous small tablet telling the story of Loreto and reproduced it in 1480, since it was faded and worm-eaten. (In the 16th and 17th centuries large memorials in various languages were placed there by order of the popes.)
In 1322 the archives of the Recanati Commune were destroyed by fire and we can suppose that many documents connected with the sanctuary were contained in those archives. Angelita, secretary archivist of the Republic of Recanati, wrote in 1525: "Some trustworthy Illyrians brought a part of the ancient chronicles of Fiume (Tersatto) to Recanati. These contained an account of the first Translation from Nazareth, and were brought to Pope Leo."
Other diligent investigators of the Loreto tradition are Raphael Riera, Horace Torsellini, St. Peter Canisius, Euscharius of the Bollandists, Luke Wadding, Peter Martorelli, Augustine Clamet, Trombelli, De Vogel, Monaldo Leopardi, Anthony Di Bergamo, Gaetano Moroni, Vuillaume, W. Garratt, Della Casa, Eschbach, F. Thomas, Ilario Rinieri, Faloci Puliganni.
Any deception in the Loreto story would have easily been detected especially by officials since the 13th century was an age of travel and communication. It should be noted that the accepted tradition of a translation that took place both at Tersatto and at Loreto affirms the fact that there was a translation of some kind. How could two traditions, rooted in such different and distant places exist unless they were based on reality? Furthermore, the threefold transference in Italy confirms the basic fact of movement. Traditions say that the Holy House was set down first at a plain called Banderuola, then on the Antici property in Recanati, and finally on the top of Loreto hill. How could so detailed and specific tradition arise and endure unless it was based on fact?
Related to that is the fact that a tradition exists in still more nearby localities, giving further evidence of a translation. At Tersatto tradition tells of both the arrival and departure of the Holy House to the Italian Marche region, of its coming to Italy; in Umbria of its passage and in some places in Toscano of a great passage. This has given rise to the custom of getting up on the night between the 9th and 10th of December when about 3 a.m. bells are rung, fires are lighted and litanies are said. The tradition is too widespread and too generally accepted to allow for doubt.
Paintings and Monuments
On some walls of the Holy House there are two layers of pictures, one over the other. Scientific investigation revealed that the Saints represented there were almost all oriental, confirming the Eastern origin of the House. In the Marche and Umbria regions there are several representations of the Translation in painting as well as in sculpture of the 15th and 16th centuries. According to the authority of competent persons, some go back to about 50 years after the Translation.
The Moral Arguments
The authenticity of Loreto argued from moral grounds includes the miracles, which Paul II stated in his bull of 1464 were almost without number, so much so that the custodians could not keep records of them all. These were not only physical but great moral conversions as well. Added to this is the fact that over 60 Saints and holy persons, who were led by the Spirit of God, were 'at home' in Loreto. Could they have been so readily deceived?
The sanctuary has had the continuous and full support of papal authority. With the papal support Loreto was changed from an insignificant village to the status of a city and they have honored it with many artistic and spiritual gifts by notable artists. At least 15 popes have made pilgrimages to Loreto, the latest being Pope John Paul II. Such has never occurred in any other sanctuary. Hundreds of papal documents grant privileges, exemptions, authorization to receive benefits, etc. Already in 1310, Clement V made concessions to German pilgrims.
Upon receiving Angelita's history of Loreto, Clement VII (1524- 34) sent a commission of 3 prelates to Tersatto and Palestine to check the facts. Benedict XIV (1748-58) defended the authenticity of the Holy House in his decree concerning the canonization of the Saints. The popes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have shown devotion similar to their predecessors. Benedict XV reestablished the Feast, December 10, as compulsory for Italy and optional for the rest of the world. His decree speaks again of the shrine's authenticity.
It was the former Vatican historian and archivist Pius XI who in his unique way summarized the whole question of the tradition of the Translation of the Holy House: "As far as the authenticity of the Holy House is concerned, there are many good reasons for acknowledging it-----but no valid reason for denying it."