‘Loreto, after Nazareth, is the ideal place to pray while meditating on the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God.’ —Pope Benedict XVI
Sometimes living liturgically can be as simple as giving new meaning to something you already do. That may be the case with celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Loreto on 10 December. If you usually decorate gingerbread houses this time of year, do them that day and tell the story of the Blessed Mother’s house! And if cookie houses aren’t your thing, or you’d rather not buy the kits or supplies, you could make houses from waffles, blocks, or legos, or draw one with crayons.
The title Our Lady of Loreto refers to Santa Casa, or the Holy House, of Loreto, which is the stone house in which Mary was born, where the Annunciation occurred, and where an ancient statue of Our Lady is found. Many believe it is also the house in which Mary and Joseph raised Jesus. Since the 13th century, popes and over 150 saints and blesseds have made pilgrimages to the site.
The fact that St. Anne and St. Joachim lived there with Mary and that Jesus lived there with Our Lady and St. Joseph is more than enough to capture our interest. But there’s more! The story has a fascinating twist because Loreto … is in Italy! How, you may wonder, did the house in which Mary and Jesus lived come to be in Italy?
The house originally stood in Nazareth. It was a sacred place from the apostles’ time. Emperor Constantine had the first basilica built over the house and its attached grotto in 312. The first Crusaders built a new basilica over it in 1100, which was destroyed during a later crusade. With the Crusaders driven out of the Holy Land in 1291, the house itself was at risk of destruction or desecration.
The first miracle of the transportation of the holy house was reported that same year on 10 May 1291 when the house suddenly appeared in a field in Tersatto, now Croatia. Inside the “chapel” shepherds found an ancient altar and a beautiful statue of the Holy Mother of God. They ran to get their priest, who spent hours praying for understanding. Our Lady appeared to him in a dream and told him this was the house in which she was born and raised and where the Annunciation happened and Jesus became incarnate. She told him the altar in the house was consecrated by St. Peter. This priest was then miraculously cured of his crippling arthritis. The house was venerated as a holy place until it suddenly disappeared three years later – just before the area was invaded. Shepherds reported seeing angels carry it away.
Next the house was discovered on a little plain in Italy near the city of Lecanati, then a second property in Lecanati, and then finally in Loreto. Government investigators were sent to Nazareth to research the house. All they found was the spot where the house originally stood – with the foundation measuring exactly that of the house in Loreto, 13’ x 31’. The hand-chiseled bricks used in the house are exactly those found in Nazareth and are completely different from what was used in Italy. The investigators were convinced it was the Holy House.
There is an alternative theory of how the house came to be in Loreto. Some say the origin of the tradition that angels carried the house is because a rich merchant whose last name was Angelos (meaning “angels”) paid crusaders to move the house to Italy. Documentation in the Vatican was found that was the basis of this explanation. Some scholars have noted that there are no signs that the house was ever disassembled and reassembled, which would have been necessary to move it.
The tradition of angels transporting the house from Nazareth to Tersatto to Italy is the reason that Mary, under her title Our Lady of Loreto, is the patron saint of pilots!
Regardless of how the house was transported from Nazareth to Loreto, it has become the greatest shrine to Our Lady in the world. More than 50 popes have testified to its authenticity. And, it is a place of many miracles.
Pope Francis added the Feast of Our Lady of Loreto to the Roman Calendar to be celebrated as an optional memorial during Advent on 10 December. The feast comes just two days after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, inviting us to contemplate further on the love God had for his Mother in sparing her from original sin.
Our Lady of Loreto, pray for us!
Celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Loreto by:
- Decorating a gingerbread house or building a house from blocks or Legos.
- Praying the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was originally called the Litany of Loreto.
- Eating spaghetti or another Italian dish as a reminder of the home’s location in Italy. You might consider serving Challah bread along with it to tie in the Jewish origins of the Holy House. You could try your hand at baking it, or just look for it at your local grocery store. It’s often in the bakery section this time of year due to Hannukah.
It is fitting to celebrate these two feast days together. The beautiful story of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe is well known. A poor Indigenous man named Juan Diego was walking for many miles to attend Mass on December 9, 1531. Near a hill called Tepeyac, he heard beautiful music that sounded like birds. A radiant cloud appeared, and in it stood an Indian maiden dressed like an Aztec princess. The lady spoke to him and sent him to the bishop of Mexico to ask for a chapel to be built in that place. The bishop was skeptical and told Juan to ask for a sign. Juan promised to do so but that day his uncle became very ill and Juan stayed to care for him instead. When Juan later went to the priest, he took the long way around the mountain, trying to avoid the lady he had let down. The lady appeared to Juan along his detour and chided him for not coming to her for help. “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” The lady assured Juan that his uncle would recover. For the bishop’s sign, she instructed Juan to gather roses in his cloak, called a tilma. The roses were miraculously growing out of season on the mountaintop. When Juan opened his tilma in the bishop’s presence on December 12, the roses fell to the ground, and the bishop sank to his knees in reverence. On the tilma was an image of Our Lady, exactly as she had appeared at Tepeyac. The symbolism of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image was obvious to the Native Mexicans: she is more powerful than the Aztec gods, yet she herself is not God. Our Lady of Guadalupe did not appear again, for her mission was complete. She had come to offer faith, hope and consolation to the oppressed natives of Mexico and to reconcile them with their Spanish rulers. She put an end to the bloody human sacrifice of the Aztecs and converted ten million natives in the next 10 years. The church she asked for was built and remains there today, in a suburb of Mexico City. Juan Diego’s tilma, woven from cactus fibers (with a shelf-life of just 30 years) remains miraculously preserved there. With the Bishop’s permission, Juan Diego moved to a small room attached to the chapel that housed the sacred image. There he cared for the tilma and church. Millions made pilgrimages to see the miraculous tilma, and to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe. Great miracles continue to occur, even today. In 1945, Pope Pius XII decreed Our Lady of Guadalupe to be the “Patroness of all the Americas.” Juan Diego died on May 30, 1548, at the age of 74. In 1990 he was declared Blessed and was canonized in 2002. Saint Pope John Paul II praised Juan Diego for his simple faith and considered him a model of humility for all.
Ideas for celebrating these feast days at home:
- Mexican-inspired dinner menu: tamales or tacos, black beans and rice, guacamole and chips. Make Mexican hot chocolate with Mexican wedding cakes for dessert! Click here for more recipe ideas.
- We love a good taco night! We kept it simple. We also picked up some local pan dulce and empanadas at la Panaderia Pereira, just 3 minutes down the road from Prince of Peace on the corner of E Lee and Watson Rd!
- Roses: buy dark pink roses or make tissue paper roses to place on your dinner table in memory of the Castilian roses that Juan Diego picked on the mountainside.
- Decorate Tilmas: turn brown paper bags into homemade “tilmas” in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Click here for idea.
- FORMED has a wonderful children’s video about Juan Diego and Guadalupe – available for free using your parishioner account! Click here to watch. There are also several wonderful books about her apparition.
- We also watched this great authentic music video of the most famous song about La Virgen de Guadalupe. There are some neat clips of “los danzantes” and the crowds outside of the shrine celebrating the great feast in Mexico City.
- We read this book by Carmen D. Bernier-Grand from the library, and there were several other options available there as well.
- Prayers to Our Lady of Guadalupe can be found at this link.
- If you have a statue of Our Lady, decorate it beautifully with flowers, Christmas lights, or candles in honor of this special feast day. You can encourage devotion to the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe by purchasing one to display in your home. Or, you can print one here.
- We put our large picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe on our altar and prayed a decade of the rosary (good thing those rosaries are chewable…)
- Click here to learn more about the amazing symbolism of Our Lady’s image on the tilma.
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