Holy House of Loreto
And so it was, in the year 1291, when the Saracens (Moslems) decided to vent their venom and hate against Christ, and all things Christian. The Crusades were over. The Christians had been defeated and run out of the Holy Land. By destroying every holy place in Palestine, the Moslems thought they could eliminate every sign or vestige of Jesus' existence in history.
At about the same time, hordes of Saracens rode, for all they were worth, their horses covered with foam of white lather as they strained to go beyond their limit, towards Nazareth. They would destroy the house of Mary. Never again would Christians celebrate the Annunciation, there. Never again would they be reminded of the Jewish Virgin's yes that helped to redeem the world. It was well known that Jesus' Apostles and disciples began celebrating Mass in the Holy House of Nazareth soon after Jesus' death. It was a Shrine from the earliest days of Christianity. This was an important place for the Saracens to destroy. This is where it had all begun.
We believe the Lord uses His Angels to do the extraordinary. He has great power, and He has given the Angels some of His power that they might glorify His Name, and help us in our walk toward Him. While we agree that God formed nature, and adheres to the rules He has set up for nature, we also believe God can do anything He wants, whenever He wants. We contend it's wrong for humans to put God into a box, placing earthly limitations on what He can and cannot do.
The Angels carried the Holy House, high above the mountains and deserts of the Holy Land, across the expansive Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas to Illyria. (It's difficult to give the actual name of the country where the Holy House landed. We have called it Yugoslavia for years, but there is no more Yugoslavia. The closest to correct that we can determine would be modern-day Croatia. Although the pilgrims were given a name which was sort of a conglomeration of Croatians and Slovenians,"Schiavoni.") On May 10, 1291, it quietly set down in the little hamlet of Tersatto, in Illyria now known as Croatia), far from the battle cries of Palestine.
It was early in the morning, when the local people discovered, to their great surprise, a house resting on the ground. There was no foundation under it! Curious to see what it was, they ventured inside. They found a stone Altar. On the Altar was a cedar statue of Mother Mary standing with Her Divine Son in Her arms. The Infant Jesus had the two first fingers of His Right Hand extended in a blessing, and with His Left Hand, He held a golden sphere representing the world. Both Mary and Jesus were dressed in robes. Golden crowns were poised on both Their heads. These are not the same crowns which are on the Statue of Our Lady and the Child Jesus, now. They were presented to the Shrine by Pope John XXIII on October 4, 1962, on his visit there
The villagers were awestruck, but confused, until a short time later, Our Lady appeared to the local Priest and said,
"Know that the house which has been brought up of late to your land, is the same in which I was born and brought up. Here, at the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel, I conceived the Creator of all things. Here the Word of the Eternal Father became Man. The Altar which was brought with this house was consecrated by Peter, Prince of the Apostles.
"This house has come from Nazareth to your shores by the power of God, of Whom nothing is impossible. And now, in order that you may bear testimony of all these things, be healed. Your unexpected and sudden recovery shall confirm the truth of what I have declared to you."
The Priest, who had suffered for years from an illness, was immediately cured. He promptly told all the people, and word of this Gift from God, spread throughout the countryside. Pilgrimages began coming immediately to the Holy House of Nazareth, in Illyria. God had chosen to bring it to this little village, and the villagers lovingly responded by erecting a modest, quite primitive building over the house, to protect it from the elements.
However, the joy, the Croatians had experienced at having this most precious gift in their midst, was short-lived. Three years and five months later, on December 10, 1294, the Holy House disappeared overnight from Croatia, never to return. Saddened by the loss, Nicholas Fangipani, a devout man from Tersatto, built a small church, a replica of the Holy House, on a hill where the original had stood. He placed an inscription:
"The Holy House of the Blessed Virgin came from Nazareth on the 10th of May, in the year 1291, and left on the 10th of December, 1294."
The people from Croatia continued venerating Our Lady in their replica church. So great was their devotion that Pope Urban V sent the people of Tersatto an image of Our Lady in 1367, which was said to have been painted by St. Luke, the Evangelist.
The people from Tersatto, or Fiume, as it was also called, grieved over the loss of the Holy House and the image of Our Lady. A Franciscan recalled a group coming across to Loreto from Dalmatia as late as the 16th Century. He wrote: "In one particular group, there were about 500 pilgrims from Tersatto, with their Priests. They began their procession into the church of the Holy House on their knees, crying and weeping. As they approached the Holy House, they wailed in their own tongue, `Come back to Fiume (Tersatto) O Mary, come back to Fiume, O Mary O Mary.' Repeating these words over again, and with bitter tears, they reached the Holy House. On seeing Her when the doors were opened, their fervour renewed and they began to repeat the same words again, mixed with many tears. And they went on with their chant as they went round the Holy House on their knees."
Another eyewitness account of pilgrims from this area, took place in 1784. "I myself have heard and seen them in great numbers every year kneeling nearly whole summer nights in front of the closed doors of the Shrine of Loreto; not content with having worshipped, kissed and bathed with their tears the walls of Mary's blessed House all day, and then sung their chants outside, and prayed to Her, weeping to remember them, in such a way that anyone who saw the repetition of that sorrowful scene was moved to devotion and compassion." (Il Messagio Della Santa Casa, vol. 25, n. 3, 1991)
To this day, pilgrims from that area of Croatia, are given special privileges at the Holy House in Loreto, not because of who they are as much as in sympathy for their great loss.
The Angels move the Holy House to Italy.
December 10th, 1294, in the area of Loreto, Italy (across the Adriatic Sea and southwest of Tersatto,) shepherds reported seeing a house in the sky, flying across the sea, supported by Angels. They reported, one of the Angels (Michael) wore a red cape, and seemed to be leading the others. They saw Our Lady and the Baby Jesus seated on top of the house. The Angels continued inland, about four miles, and landed with their precious house and its Royal Passengers into a wooded area called Banderuola.
The news spread, quickly drawing many people to pilgrimage to the House in Banderuola. But they were not all working on the same agenda. Robbers came to waylay, rob, and beat the pilgrims. The faithful stopped coming, and the house quickly fell into neglect.
The Angels, who had been put in charge of protecting the House, lifted it again and set it down on a small hill in the middle of a farm. The only problem was, this land was owned by two brothers, named Antici, who began fighting immediately over ownership of the house.
So the Angels moved the house, a third time, to another hill. This time they placed it down on the middle of a road, the site it occupies now, and has for the last 700 years. Tradition tells us that as soon as the house moved off the brothers' property, they became the best of friends. The Angels had moved the Holy House three times in one year.
The people of Recanati and Loreto didn't know exactly what they had there. One day they had a road, on which they rode their horses and carriages; the next day they had to go around the road, because there was a building in the way. They knew it was a church, and it had appeared miraculously. They knew about its movement, from place to place, the first year it was there. They'd heard reports of the multitudes of miracles taking place as a result of praying at the church. That was about as much as they knew. But in 1296, that was all to change. Two years after it had landed in Loreto, Our Lady appeared to a very holy man, Paul of the woods, a hermit. She explained the origin of the house, and concluded with these words,
"It remained in the city of Nazareth, to the great consolation of Christians until, by the permission of God, those who reverenced this Holy House were expelled from the city by the arms of the infidels. And since no honor was any longer paid to it, and it was in evident danger of being profaned by the infidels in contempt of the Christian name, it seemed good to My Beloved Son to translate it from Nazareth to Illyria by the hands of Angels, and afterwards, to remove it to your land."
There is a beautiful tradition which can actually be traced back to the Seventeenth Century, but most likely began a lot earlier, around the 14th or 15th centuries. It is called the Focaricci. Along the coastline of the Adriatic into the central part of Italy, actually to Loreto, on the evening of December 10, bonfires are made to commemorate the Angelic flight of the Holy House from Illyria to Italy. It has continued on into the 21st Century. It is a beautiful tradition, and tribute to Our Lady.
Traffic Jam in the Holy House
As the Holy House became a popular place for pilgrims, a traffic problem developed. Typical of houses of that period, and often even now, there was just one opening, at the side of the house. When the pilgrims tried to exit, they had to fight to get out, because of the crowds pushing and shoving to get in. Many were nearly crushed. Pope Clement VII decided to close the original door and have three doors built. He commissioned a famous architect to do the job. There may have been a problem, in that no one asked Our Lady for permission. When the architect took his hammer to strike the first blow in the stone, his hand withered, and he began trembling, helplessly. Regaining his strength, he fled from Loreto, never to return. After this, no one would go near the job.
When the situation looked the dimmest, a cleric named Ventura Barino volunteered to do the job. He and his workmen fasted and prayed for three days, before beginning. On the third day, Barino went up to the wall, fell to his knees and prayed to Our Lady. His prayer went something like this,
"Dear Lady, I'm innocent. It's not really me striking this wall, but the Pope. He's doing this so that Your Holy House will be more accessible to those people who would venerate You here. So, if You are not happy with this task we are about to undertake, I would really appreciate it if You would take it up with the Pope, and not me."
With that, the men began their appointed task. They went about closing the one door opening and making three others (which exist till today). You can still see the wooden beam that had been over the Holy Family's door. The original opening was filled with stones removed from areas of the house where the three new openings had been made.
Because of the enormous number of Pilgrims coming to the Shrine, the people of Loreto believed certain precautionary measures needed to be taken. They would have to brace the structure; they judged the house would not be able to support the weight of the pilgrims. In addition, they would have to preserve the Holy Building from the weather. So, they covered it with a stone wall! But after the work was completed, the wall separated from the Holy House. In the excavations, beneath the House, there is enough room, for a boy to walk between the House and the wall they had built. You can also see that the house does not, till today, rest on a foundation.
The Holy House is considered, "The holiest place on earth." Blessed by the Holy Family Who lived there, and the Angel Gabriel who appeared there to Mary, it was chosen, not only to provide shelter and bring Good News then, but, for all time.
For centuries, the custodians of the Holy House have been faithfully, lovingly caring for the Shrine and spreading devotion to Our Lady of Loreto and Her Holy House.
Also, for centuries, the Holy House has been a favorite Shrine for Saints, Blesseds and Popes. Hundreds of Saints have visited the Holy House, including St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Maxmillian Kolbe, St. John Bosco, St. Francis de Sales, St. Dominic Savio, St. Frances Cabrini, St. John Neumann, St. Alphonse Liguori, to mention a few. Over 200 who have been canonized, beatified or declared venerable by the Church have come and prayed at the Holy house.
You don't have to go to the Holy House of Loreto to hear Jesus, Mary and the Angels speak to you. It can happen anywhere. But give yourself a treat. If the Lord wills it, go to this holy place, where the Annunciation took place, where the Holy Family lived and loved for thirty years, or visit the Replica of the Holy House in Morrilton, Arkansas, and join the Angels who have protected it for centuries, as they chime in, adoring the Lord during the Holy Mass. Open your mind and your heart to what your Heavenly Family is saying to you