‘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.