The Miracle of the Holy House of Loreto
by Lee Wells
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.
. . . 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.
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.
The Authenticity of the Holy House Verified
by Fr. Angelo Maria d’Anghiari
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.”
The above chapter was originally printed in IMMACULATA Magazine and is excerpted from a 60 page booklet of the same title by Ft: Angelo Maria d’Anghiari, translated by Cecilia Nachich.
The Saints and Loreto
by Frank Hanley
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 (see side bar, LINK BELOW). 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.
The Popes and Loreto
THE VOICES OF THE SUPREME PONTIFFS have been in one accord in the praise of Loreto. In the long history of Loreto, there has not been a single negative position taken by a Vicar of Christ. On the contrary, each century has its share of expression of papal approval and encouragement.
14th Century: Less than twenty years after the Holy House appeared in Italy in 1310, Clement V made some concessions in his Bull to German pilgrims who made vows at Loreto. Ten years later, John XXII confirmed certain rights of the canons to the tithes of the sanctuary. Urban V expressed a desire to visit Loreto on his official return to Rome from Avignon. He sent an image of the Madonna of Loreto to Tersatto. Gregory XI spoke of the miracles and granted further indulgences, as did his successors Urban VI and Boniface IX.
15th Century: Pope St. Martin V granted many privileges to those who visit the Holy House and these were confirmed by Popes Sixtus I and Leo X. In 1471, Pope Paul II, who was miraculously cured himself, said: “It is . . . the house of the glorious Virgin herself and her image, which was placed there by the wonderful mercy of God and where countless miracles are wrought by the power of the Mother of God.” When the future Pope Paul II was on his way to Rome, he took sick in Ancona, was brought to the Holy House where he prayed for deliverance from his sickness. He was not only cured, he was told by our Blessed Mother that he would be elected the new pope. His was the first Bull to speak openly of the miraculous Translation. As pope, he granted a Holy Year in honor of our Lady at the beginning of the construction of the present basilica.
16th Century: Julius II presented Loreto with the cannonball which threatened his life at Mirandola and issued a Bull granting the sanctuary further indulgences. Leo X had the new basilica decorated with precious sculpture. Clement VII sent a commission to Tersatto and Palestine to investigate the Loreto tradition. St. Pius V had an Agnus Dei imprinted with the inscription, “This is truly the house of the flower that was Nazareth.” Gregory XIII had four memorial tablets engraved with the Loreto story. Sixtus V proclaimed Loreto a city. Clement VIII allowed the Province of Piceno to celebrate the feast of the Translation. Urban VIII had other tablets installed and extended the liturgical celebration to the surrounding Marche district. Clement IX inserted the Translation history into the Roman Martyrology. Innocent XII approved the divine office of the Translation for the Marche. Benedict XIII extended the liturgical feast to all Italy and founded the Roman Congregation of Loreto which functioned until the reform of Pius X.
18th Century: Benedict XIV defended the tradition in his book on the canonization of the Saints.
19th Century: Pius VII restored the statue of our Lady to Loreto taken by Napoleon to France. Pius IX’s miraculous cure at the Loreto Shrine is related below. His successor, Pope Leo XIII, in celebrating the sixth hundredth anniversary of the Translation of the Holy House granted further indulgences.
20th Century: Pius X followed suit in 1906 and 1914. Benedict XV restored to Italy the celebration of the Translation omitted in the liturgical reform of his predecessor. It was he who proclaimed the Virgin of Loreto chief Patroness of Aviators. Pius XI presented a new statue to the sanctuary after the disastrous fire of 1922. He is quoted as saying that he had fought more than one battle for Loreto. Pius XII allowed Masses to be celebrated there for 24 hours on March 25th. John XXIII was the first pope to visit Loreto since the loss of the Papal States in 1870. He came one week before convening the Second Vatican Council and revealed the purpose of his trip: “We have come here to invoke you [Mary] as the first Star of the Council, as the propitious light on our way which winds faithfully towards the great ecumenical assembly of universal expectation.” The following words of his summarize the importance of Loreto: “Here is the wonderful synthesis of all the shrines of the world.”
While Archbishop of Milan, Paul VI visited Loreto and blessed the sick pilgrims. Less than a year after Pope John Paul’s election to the Papacy on September 8, 1979, just prior to his first visit to the United Nations, he went on pilgrimage to Loreto which he spoke of as the “first Marian shrine of Italy.” There he entrusted this important mission to her care. During the 15th year of his Pontificate, on August 15,1993, to commemorate the seventh centenary of Loreto, the Pope sent an apostolic letter to his Excellency, Archbishop Pasquale Macchi, papal delegate for the shrine. In conclusion, in all, 50 popes have issued Bulls and Briefs testifying to the authenticity of the Holy House. And as if to show her special love for the Vicars of her Son, the Holy Fathers, the Virgin of Loreto has miraculously cured three of them—–Popes Paul II, Pius II and Pius IX.
The Loreto Pope Who Was Miraculously Cured
Pope Pius IX, who was beatified along with Pope John XXIII during the year 2000, had a special devotion to Our Lady of Loreto and with good reason. As a youth in Piceno, Italy he went annually with his mother to Loreto. When he was small he fell into a stream, after which he was frequently tortured with fatigue and fever. The doctors were unable to pinpoint the cause. He was a bright student but his future became clouded with epilepsy seizures. Upon leaving the seminary, he visited his close friend, Pope Pius VII, who comforted him with this wisdom: “God is mysterious. He throws down to raise up. He throws into the gutter the ones He wants to lift to the stars. Above the wildest storms gleams the Star of the Sea. Renounce yourself and place yourself in the hands of the Madonna. Call out to her ‘save me!’ The Virgin of Nazareth is your future.” The young man went to Loreto with this prayer on his lips: “Mother, behold your child—–sick, miserable, useless. I am the shame of my family and disgust to myself. I dedicate myself to you—–save me. Immaculata, make me clean!”
He was cured and with the Pope’s approval he returned to the seminary and became a priest, then archbishop of Spoleto, and eventually Cardinal of Imola. The conclave of 1846 elevated him to the papacy and he assumed the name of Pius IX. In 1854, he proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, thus officially inaugurating the Marian Era. During Vatican Council I he promulgated the definition of Papal Infallibility. As Pope he visited this his favorite shrine seven times.
Loreto: Sanctuary of the Incarnation
Msgr. Vincenzo Faraoni
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.
Loreto: An Art Treasure House
WHEN THE HOLY Father, Pope John Paul II speaks continuously of the great need of Christianizing our culture, particularly the art and literature, such a need is no more apparent than in the furor created recently over the blasphemous, pagan “art” exhibit that took place in late 1999 in Brooklyn, New York. Art has as one of its objects to lift up the spirit, not to degrade, much less poke fun at the sacred. Over the centuries, Catholic Italy, inspired by such faith, has ever been the center of great art and artists, and the art has been predominantly of a religious nature. The subject of that art is for the most part the Madonna. It is when faith is alive that one will find the greatest masterpieces that men of superior talents have produced.
There is probably no church in Christendom that has such wide and diverse masterpieces as are found in the basilica of Loreto. Artists, popes, and national ethnic groups have vied with each other over the centuries, in holy competition, to produce paintings, tapestries, sculpture and architecture that has made Loreto a treasure house of masterpieces by many famous masters.
It was in the second half of the 15th century that construction of the present great pilgrimage church was undertaken with its cruciform plan and gothic line. The basilica is crowned by the impressive dome of Giuliano da Sangallo, whose work in Florence inspired Michaelangelo. Bramante, who gave St. Peter’s in the Vatican its monumental clarity, produced a design for the facade and a four-sided portico facing the church, but little was carried out at the time. Just ten years after the building of the church was begun, two great painters were called to Loreto, Melozzo da Forli and Luca Signorelli, who undertook the fresco decoration of the sacristies of SS. Mark and John.
Starting in 1518, and following a design by Bramante, Andrea Sansovino carried out the marble screen which encases the Holy House; it is adorned with reliefs showing scenes from the life of Mary. The elaboration of this richly ornamented marble work continued up to the last decades of the 19th century. Famous sculptors such as Raffaello da Montelupo, Nicolo Triholo and Francesco da Sangallo contributed.
The three bronze doors in the facade were also made at the end of the 19th century—–the side ones by local artists and the central one by Antonio Lombardo and his sons. During the 16th century oil paintings and frescoes were painted for the altars by such masters as Lorenzo Lotto, Geralomo Muziano, Pellegrino Tibaldi, Federico Zuccari, Cristoforo Pomarancio and Simon Vouet. Pomarancio also carried out the decoration of the vault of the Treasury. The fountain in the square was the accomplishment of Maderno.
Between 1750 and 1754, Luigi Vanvitelli built the elegant campanile. During the last quarter of the 18th century, nearly all the altars were renovated and large mosaics were substituted for the painted altarpieces. The latter were removed to the Apostolic Palace which also contains a group of other notable paintings as well as a series of nine tapestries woven in Brussels by Henry Mattens between 1620 and 1624. These follow the famous Raphael drawings for the Sistine Chapel paintings.
The interior of the basilica contains the following chapels—–each an artistic masterpiece in its own right. The Massilla chapel is named after the Recanati family who had it decorated in the 16th century with works by Calcagni and Vergelli. The Holy Rosary chapel was restored in 1943 by Steffanina, who also did .the chapel of St. Francis of Paula. The chapel of SS. Emidio and Charles Borromeo was redecorated to commemorate the pilgrimage there of St. Louis Grignon de Montfort. The chapel of the Immaculate Conception depicts the patrons of the young women’s Catholic Action. The Mexican chapel depicts the story of Guadalupe, donated by its nationals. The Swiss chapel was decorated between 1936-38 and depicts scenes from the life of Mary and of the Swiss Blesseds and Saints. The elaborate chapel of St. Joseph, the gift of the Spaniards, depicts the life of the virginal foster Father of Jesus.
The frescoes of the Chapel of the Dukes of Urbino were done by Brandano and Zuecari. The chapel holds The Annunciation by Barocci. The Polish chapel was done between 1912-39 and depicts national heroes and Saints devoted to Mary. The largest and richest chapel in frescoes is the German chapel done by Seitz between 1892-1902. Its walls are dedicated to the Virgin Mother of God and the Sorrowful Co-Redemptrix; the ceiling depicts her glorious coronation. The Slavonic chapel tells the story of the missionary brothers SS. Cyril and Methodius. The French chapel presents the visit to Nazareth of St. Louis, King of France, while leading a crusade in the Holy Land.
The chapel of the Crucified is a gift of the Italian people and is decorated with various symbols of the Passion. The large crucifix is a sculpture in wood by the 17th century Franciscan, Innocent of Patralia. It portrays the three phases of Christ on the Cross: living, dying, and the dead Savior. The chapel of St. Therese of Lisieux depicts her pilgrimage to Loreto on November 13, 1887. The chapel of the Holy Name of Jesus has decorations by Bellini. The chapel of St. Michael is decorated with Passionist Saints. The chapel of St. Francis depicts the Capuchin Saints of the Marches. The chapel donated by the Catholics of India has scenes from the life of St. Francis Xavier.
The latest and last chapel to be decorated is that of the Assumption, or the American chapel. The donations to decorate this chapel came through the initiative of the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima in the United States. The Assumption is portrayed on the ceiling and the wall murals depict the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption and the American adventure in space. For that reason it is referred to as the aviation chapel. The stained glass window centers on 14 Saints of the Americas and a branch motif unites them with the ogive of the Trinity, Fount of all Holiness. The artist Giuseppe Steffanina chose the theme, “I am the Vine and you the Branches” for this masterpiece.
Thus good art from every land, especially Italy, extending over the last five centuries in chapels of many nations sings once more the prophetic words of St. Elizabeth addressed to Mary: “Behold all generations will call you blessed.”
Our Lady of Loreto and Lone Eagle
On May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh completed a nonstop solo transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in 33 hours and 32 minutes. During the time when he was isolated from the rest of the world, he tells us in his memoirs, he prayed. He prayed throughout the voyage and the more his anxiety increased the more he prayed. The New York Times wrote of him: “The more one thinks of the behavior of Lindbergh in Paris, so much the more one arrives at the conclusion that God had a great part in the success of the aviator.”
Probably the confidence which sustained the young American aviator throughout his flight was due to a small image of Our Lady of Loreto, proclaimed 7 years previously by Pope Benedict XV, as Patroness of air travelers. Lindbergh had brought the medal on board his plane “The Spirit of St. Louis” before his departure. It was a gift from Father Hussman, pastor of St. Enrico’s in St. Louis. Lindbergh accepted the medal with joy and promised to return it as soon as he arrived at his destination, but Father Hussman preferred to leave the blessed medal with the young man known as the Lone Eagle.
The medal was the first to travel across the Atlantic by air and the medal literally saved the young pilot’s life. He tells us in his memoirs that he had the medal hung in the cabin of his plane and it was the gentle tapping of this medal against the wall of the cabin which awoke him when he fell asleep.
The Litany of Loreto
Some of Our Lady’s most well-known titles are preserved in the Litany of Loreto, which was approved by Pope Sixtus V in 1587, but could have originated as early as the end of the 12th Century. This collection of Marian titles is interesting in a number of ways. It enshrines both Old and New Testament imagery to form an expansive verbal tapestry, offering a panoramic view of the Blessed Mother’s place in salvation history . So, She is invoked there not only as “Holy Mother of God” and “Mother of the Church,” but also as “Seat of Wisdom,” “Ark of the Covenant,” and “Tower of David.” The divisions between the “Testaments” melt away in this Litany, and the plan of God for our Redemption seems to flow across the centuries uninterruptedly, with logic and thoroughness. The womb of the Mother of God, the first of all Tabernacles, is superimposed over its “type” [i.e., foreshadowing], the Ark of the Covenant, and all the proper connections come to light.
The structure of the Litany makes these connections evident. The invocations are layered in a deliberate way. We begin with Mary’s maternal titles: “Mother of Christ, ” “Mother Most Pure,” “Mother of Good Counsel,” etc. Since it is Our Lady’s Divine Motherhood that forms the basis of ALL Her glories and privileges, it is both right and informative to invoke this Maternity at the start of the Litany. By doing so, the Incarnation is planted as the bedrock, the very reason for our veneration of the Lady who presented the God-Man to us, clothed in visible flesh.
From the maternal titles, the Litany moves on to the titles praising Our Lady’s virginity: “Virgin Most Prudent,” “Virgin Most Renowned,” “Virgin Most Powerful,” etc. Again, this is the logical progression. The fact of the Divine Motherhood points inescapably to a virginal Motherhood, to a purity that must accompany the conception and birth of He Whom the Angel Gabriel would describe as “the Son of the Most High.” And, moreover, this virginal purity must be abiding, “perpetual,” otherwise there is no consistency to God’s actions. If Our Lady’s purity were not an abiding one, then we would have God carefully planning the Virginal Conception and Birth of His Son from the beginning of time, only to have this honored, Divinely-bestowed purity discarded at the first opportunity. If this were the case, why have a virginal conception in the first place? Some might answer, “To prove the Divinity of Jesus.” If this were the only reason, then why would God have placed St. Joseph on the scene, as a shield for Mary’s honor and actual foster-father to His Son? When addressing the crowds who gathered to hear Him speak, Our Lord didn’t tell them to consider His Virgin Birth, but to look at His works, if they wished to understand that He had come from God.
No, the virginity of Mary was more than a mere required condition for the birth of Her Son. It was substantial; it was part of who and what She was and is. So, the Litany of Loreto offers high praise to this virginity on the heels of its praise to the Divine Maternity, which was its foundation. Then, after these praises of Mary’s motherhood and virginity, the Litany praises the roles bestowed on Mary as a result of this Virginal Maternity. Again, it’s a clearly stated doctrinal progression. After we recognize and praise Mary’s motherhood and virginity, we proclaim just what this twin office entitles Her to do on our behalf. Here, the Litany invokes Her under titles such as “Seat of Wisdom,” “Gate of Heaven,” “Refuge of Sinners,” while not ignoring some allusions to Her mystery and beauty [again, the results of Her Virginal Motherhood]: “Cause of our Joy,” “Mystical Rose,” “Morning Star,” etc.
How can mankind be stingy in praise of God’s Mother when He has honored her more highly than we can ever dream of? A nd yet, we try. The development of the Litany of Loreto is a concrete example of just how strongly the desire to love and praise Mary is set into our hearts by the Holy Ghost. Over the years, new titles have been added to this Litany, as history proves again and again the love of this Great Lady for Her children. One notable example is the title, “Queen of the Most Holy Rosary,” which was added to the Litany by Pope Leo XIII and can trace its origin back to the “Feast of the Holy Rosary,” instituted to commemorate the famous victory over the Turkish fleet at Lepanto on October 7, 1571. 3
The words of Pope Leo, recorded in His Apostolic Letter, Salutaris ille [December 24, 1883], are an eloquent testimony to the need of Christians to recognize Our Lord’s bounty and honor it accordingly:
” . . . the Rosary was instituted chiefly to implore the protection of the Mother of God against the enemies of the Catholic Church, and, as everyone knows, it has often been most effectual in delivering the Church from calamities.
“To the honor, therefore, of Mary, the august Mother of God, for a perpetual remembrance of the prayer for Her protection offered among all nations to Her most pure heart throughout the month of October; as an enduring testimony of the unbounded trust which We put in Our loving Mother, and in order that We may day by day, more and more obtain Her favorable aid, We will and decree that in the Litany of Loreto, after the invocation, ‘Queen conceived without Original Sin,’ shall be added the suffrage, ‘Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for us’!”
We can really see in this Letter how concrete is the reason for honoring Our Lady and recognizing Her glorious titles. Contrary to the anti-Catholic view, we don’t honor the Mother of God because our psyches harbor a vestigial desire to worship the pagan goddesses and earth-mothers of the dim past, or because it’s a “colorful” thing to do, a sort of “verbal incense.” The Pope’s strong, clear words remind us that this veneration is grounded in cold, hard experience. It may be extravagant at times, or poetic, but that’s because it has to be. No other approach would suit the subject. We tailor our praise around the reality of what we are praising. In doing so, we don’t create random titles for Our Lady. Instead, using our God-given intellects, we recognize the truths which are reflected in them, and seek to express these truths. It’s what both scientists and poets have been doing for countless centuries and it’s as practical as any human endeavor can be.
Act of Consecration to Our Lady of Loreto
O Immaculate Virgin Mary, we come to thee with confidence: welcome this day our humble prayer and our act of consecration.
O Mother, thou didst carry thy Divine Saviour in thy most pure womb: receive our homage of faith and filial love as we come in spirit into thy Holy House. It is, by the presence of the Holy Family, the holy home par excellence. And it is our wish that every Christian family be inspired by it.
From Jesus, all children learn to obey and to work. From thee, O Mary, all women learn humility and the spirit of sacrifice. From Joseph, who didst live for Jesus and for thee, all men learn to believe in God, to live in and for you, all men learn to believe in God, to live in the family and in society with fidelity and honesty. O Mary, we pray for our Pope and for the Universal Church, for our country and for all the nations of the world, for the suffering souls for all sinners. And we all wish to consecrate ourselves to thee.
Spiritually present in the Holy House, where thou didst conceive by the Holy Spirit, we want to repeat with lively faith the words of the Archangel Gabriel: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee!” We want to invoke thee still, saying: “Hail Mary, Mother of Jesus and Mother of the Church!”
We turn to thee O Mary. Receive our consecration to thine Immaculate heart. Totally thine, we wish to confirm by this act of love our unlimited love for Jesus, thy Son, and our hope in thee, our Mother. And thou, O Queen and Mother of Mercy, grant to thy children an abundance of heavenly blessings. Amen.