SANTA CASA – HOLY HOUSE

The legend of Loreto (angels lifted the house intact and flew across the ocean to Croatia where it stayed until it was no longer safe, then the same angels carried it through the air to Loreto, Italy where it remains today), is so hard to believe that I was reluctant to go inside, what if I wanted to laugh instead of worship? Maybe I shouldn’t be here. But I was here now, so I took a deep breath, walked across the Piazza della Santa Casa and opened the large front door.

I was deeply affected by the Holy House in Loreto; it was the holiest place I had visited so far and is still one of the holiest places I have ever visited. As soon as I stepped inside, I felt such a powerful presence that I paused, almost fearful to step forward. I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know what to expect, but I found myself almost tip toeing up to the marble casing that protects the holy house. I was almost afraid to step inside the little house, when I did, I stood in awe; I couldn’t believe that I had the rare and amazing privilege of standing here inside of this mysterious and miraculous structure. The space is very small, measuring roughly 28 feet front to back, including the vault with the altar that is outside the original house, it is only 12.5 feet from side to side; and 13.5 feet tall; if there are more than 5-6 people inside; it’s extremely crowded.

There are two competing stories explaining how the little house arrived in Loreto; I have copied them here; I will leave you, gentle reader, to decide which story you choose to believe. The first story is the one that is told in the basilica; the second story is from a more recent study of the little house.  

From the flyer I picked up inside the basilica: “LORETO … The Shrine of the Holy House – Spiritual Guide”

“The Holy House of Loreto, the first shrine of international renown dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, has been a true Marian center of Christianity for several centuries.

According to ancient tradition, which has now been confirmed by historical and archeological research, the Shrine of Loreto preserves our Lady’s home of Nazareth. Mary’s earthly home was made up of two parts: a grotto dug out of the rock, which is still venerated in the Basilica of the Annunciation at Nazareth, and a stone house which was in front of the grotto. 

Grotto of the NativityThe Grotto of the Annunciation in Nazareth

According to tradition, in 1291, when the Crusaders were finally expelled from Palestine, Our Lady’s stone house was transported “by angels” first to Illyria (Tersatto, in modern Croatia) then to the territory of Loreto (10 December, 1294)

Today, recent documentary indications, the results of archaeological excavations at Nazareth and the ground below the Holy House (1962-65), as well as philological and iconographic studies, all seem to confirm that the stones of the Holy House were transported to Loreto by ship, thanks to the intervention of a noble family Angeli (Angels in Italian) that ruled Epirus. A recently discovered document, dated September 1294, testifies that on giving his daughter Ithmar in marriage to Philip of Taranto, fourth son of Charles II of Anjou, king of Naples, Niceforo Angelo, despot of Epirus, settled upon Philip, as part of the bride’s dowry, certain properties among which stand out “the holy stones carried away from the House of Our Lady the Virgin Mother of God”.

Five crosses made of red material have been found walled among the stones of the Holy House, belonging to Crusaders or more probably to knights of the military order that defended the holy places and relics during the middle ages. Some remains of an ostrich egg have also been found, which immediately recalls Palestine and a symbolism referring to the mystery of the Incarnation.

Furthermore, for its structure and stone, which is not available in this area, as a construction the Holy House is foreign to the culture and building practices of the Marche. On the other hand, the technical comparison between the Holy House and the Grotto at Nazareth has highlighted that the two parts were contiguous and coexisted.

Diagram Holy House

A recent study of the way the Nabathenes cut stone, a method which was widespread throughout Galilee in Jesus’ time is of great importance in confirming the tradition. The numerous graffiti cut in the stones of the Holy House are also very interesting. Experts have judged them to be clearly of Jewish-Christian origin and very similar to those found at Nazareth.

Cut Stones LoretoStone cutting is similar to Nabathene stone cutting from Palestine

Loreto GrafitiGraffiti on stones found in the Holy House is similar to graffiti found in First Century stones in Palestine

In its original form, the Holy House had only three walls because the eastern side, where the altar stands, opened onto the Grotto. The three original walls (with no foundations and standing on an ancient road) rise only to the height of three meters (nearly 10 feet). The masonry above, made of local bricks, was added later, including the vault (1536), to make the place more suitable for worship.

The marble casing that surrounds the walls of the Holy House was commissioned by Julius II and built by well-known Italian Renaissance artists according to a design by Bramante (c 1507). The statue of the Virgin with Child, in cedar wood from Lebanon, replaces the XIVth Century one which was destroyed by fire in 1921.

Over the years, numerous famous artists have worked to embellish the Shrine, which has become the favored destination of millions of pilgrims and whose renown has spread rapidly throughout the world.

Holy_House_of_Our_Lady_in_Loreto_interior_altarThe Holy House in Loreto; the stones from the floor to about 10 feet are from the house in Nazareth, stones above that height are local stones.

A competing explanation of the Holy House of Nazareth was published by “The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (tfp.org). I have pasted it here:

Science Confirms: Angels Took the House of Our Lady of Nazareth to Loreto

August 7, 2016 | Luis Dufaur 

At a conference organized by the “Amici del Timone” Cultural Center in Staggia Senese, Italy, titled “The Story of the Incredible Move of the House of Mary of Nazareth to Loreto,” a topic was developed which challenges engineering.

Indeed, the Holy House, birthplace of Our Lady and where the Archangel Gabriel announced to her the Incarnation, has been for many centuries in the town of Loreto (Santa Casa di Loreto), in the Marche region of Italy, facing the Adriatic Sea.

However, the Annunciation took place in Nazareth, in the Holy Land, where the foundations of the Holy House remain to this day. When compared with the dimensions and characteristics of the Loreto House, they match perfectly; but the similarities and concordances do not end there.

How did the Holy House take off, so to speak, from its foundations and reappear about 2,000 miles away, where it remains intact to this day?

According to historical evidence, the move took place in the thirteenth century; but how could it have been done given the poor technological resources of the time?

The move is attributed to an angelic action officially recognized by Popes and sustained by saints. However, such authoritative approvals are not intended to explain the material procedure, which carried an object the size of a house from one continent to another practically overnight.

This transfer, however, was confirmed by historical, documentary and archaeological evidence. Once again, for the astonishment of many, science confirms the Church.

Prof. Giorgio Nicolini, who devoted his life of study and research to the case, spoke at this conference. Based on these scientific evidences, he proved indisputably the veracity of the miraculous transfer.

During his lecture, Professor Nicolini demonstrated the existence of many documents and eyewitness accounts of the transfer, which science and human method cannot explain. He also established a chronology of the change of location.

1.  On May 9, 1291, the Holy House was still in Nazareth.

2.  On the night of May 9 to 10, 1291, it traveled nearly 2,000 miles and reached Tersatto (now Trsat), in the region of Dalmatia, in what is now a suburb of Rijeka, Croatia.

On that occasion, Nicolò Frangipane, feudal lord of Tersatto personally sent a delegation to Nazareth to ascertain whether the Holy House had indeed disappeared from its original place. The emissaries not only verified its disappearance but found the foundation on which the house was built and from which the walls had been taken away as a block. Around these foundations in Nazareth, the Basilica of the Annunciation was built. In Loreto, the Holy House stands firmly, without its foundation, directly on the ground.

3.  On the night of December 9 to 10, 1294, the Holy House disappeared from Tersatto and landed “in various places” of Italy. For nine months it stayed on a hillside overlooking the port of Ancona, which thus came to be called “Posatora,” from the Latin “posat et ora” (to set down, or land, and pray).

A church was built on the site as a memorial, as was recorded at the time and signed by a priest “Don Matteo,” probably an eyewitness.

Two tombstones also commemorate this occurrence. One is from the same time period of the event and is written in old Vulgar Latin. The other, from the sixteenth century, is written in vernacular and is a copy of the older.

Posatora’s oldest tombstone already mentioned “Our Lady of Loreto,” making it clear that the inscription was done after the House’s departure from the site.

4.  In 1295, after nine months in Posatora, the Holy House moved to a forest that belonged to a woman called Loreta, near the town of Recanati. That is where the name Loreto comes from.

5.  Between 1295 and 1296, after spending eight months in this location the Holy House was miraculously transported to a farm on Mount Prodo belonging to two brothers of the Antici family.

6.  In 1296, after four months at this farm, the Holy House departed and landed on a public road on Mount Prodo connecting Recanati to Ancona, where it remains to this day.

Countless other elements attest to the historical truth of this inexplicable translation of the Holy House. Three churches were built in Ancona—two still existing—testaments that eyewitnesses saw the “flying” Santa Casa arrive in Ancona and stop in Posatora.

Moreover, in Forio, on Ischia Island, fishermen who traded with Ancona returned narrating the events that had taken place in 1295. Their reports led the city inhabitants to erect a basilica dedicated to “Santa Maria di Loreto.” They also saw the Holy House in Ancona with their own eyes.

Various bishops of the region approved the veneration of the miraculous translations. For centuries the Popes renewed the approvals until Urban VIII, in 1624, definitively established December 10 as the Feast of the Translation of the Holy House of Mary, Mother of God.

Several Popes, including Paul II, Julius II, Leo X, Pius IX, Leo XIII and Pius XI documented their recognition of the translation. These respective documents, beyond their religious aspect in which the Popes recognize the event as supernatural, are recognized as valuable documents by historical science.

Professor Nicolini strongly reprimanded the materialistic mentality, at times agnostic, atheistic or Protestant, which seeks to discredit the authenticity of the Holy House venerated in Loreto.

In a way, this opposition encouraged deeper studies, which ended up proving the Holy House actually came from the Holy Land. Proofs include the chemical composition of the material used to build the house, its shape, and many architectural details.

Some, denying the angelic translation, went so far as to fabricate a story that a fanciful princely family from Epirus named “Angeli” had dismantled the house and transported it brick by brick at the request of the Crusaders facing the destructive advance of Muslims. That “family” then rebuilt the house in Loreto.

Such an operation, with the transportation conditions of the thirteenth century, would have been a more miraculous feat than the angelic translation.

The stones and bricks are kept together with a mortar whose physical and chemical composition is found only in Palestine and precisely in the region of Nazareth. They are nonexistent in the Marche region or anywhere else in Italy.

Moreover, if the house was dismantled and rebuilt in place after place along its journey—as claimed by its fanciful objectors—one cannot understand how it could possibly have maintained the exact geometric proportions of the Nazareth house, whose foundations, to this day, match perfectly the walls of Loreto.

Nor would it have been possible that nobody saw or heard the house being dismantled and later rebuilt, especially in the brief span of one night in the center of the shrine in Nazareth and then again in Croatia and Italy.

Even more inexplicable is the fact that the Holy House finally came to rest across an old dirt highway. On this road, the passage of animals and carriages naturally opened ruts in the center of the roadway, raising the roadsides, and forming ditches on both sides. Thus, the way the house landed, its three walls, with no foundation, are supported partly on ground and partly over open air. Today pilgrims can see this for themselves through a glass floor.

Holy_House_Loreto_walls_no_foundation

Glass on the floor for the Holy House allows pilgrims to observe the walls without foundations, still supported on the ground and partly in the air.

The Recanati City Hall, moreover, had already at that time forbidden the building of houses on public roads and had ordered demolished all buildings found to be in violation of the ordinance. How, then, could someone have rebuilt a house cutting across the road without anyone noticing?

Another great hurdle comes from the lack of means in those days to carry an entire house, even if dismantled brick by brick and stone by stone. It would weigh a few tons. Transport by road would have likely been unfeasible due the delay and the amount of chariots, animals and men it would require. Transportation by sea, while more feasible, would also have been too time-consuming and prone to loss due to storms.

More complicated still would be to cut the walls in segments and take them intact on a 2,000 mile journey and then glue them back together without leaving traces of the joints. These material factors, Prof. Giorgio Nicolini explained, postulate the impossibility of such transportation with the technical means of the time.

From Professor Nicolini’s long and detailed demonstration it is clearly much more reasonable to believe the angelic translation resulting from a wondrous work of God, for Whom nothing is impossible, and Who has worked far greater miracles.

For human hands to have performed such a translation is to consider an event even more miraculous than that done by the work of angels.

Holy_House_of_Our_Lady_in_Loreto_exterior_within_Basilica

A marble casing covers the exterior of the Holy House of Mary, Mother of God, as seen from within the Basilica in Loreto, Italy.

The pictures I took didn’t turn out as well.

P1040454

P1040455Interior of the Holy House

 

P1040456Flash wasn’t allowed, so I was unable to get a good picture of the actual Holy House, this is just the vault with the altar.

MadonnaThe Virgin with Child carved from cedar wood from Lebanon replaced the original that was destroyed by fire in 1921. The original had been darkened from years of exposure to smoke from votive candles; the artist who carved the new Madonna, mistakenly believed the darkened color was from the original and colored the new Madonna deep black, so she became the Black Madonna of Loreto.

I spent a long time standing in this very small space. It’s impossible to describe the sense of peace and beauty that covers this small room; people walk silently, it’s rare to hear voices talking. I stood for a long time pondering what these walls had seenit was in this room that Mary read to Jesus and taught him the scriptures, Jesus may have fallen down and skinned his knees in this room, did he cry? Did he rub up against the very stone I’m touching? What did they talk about, was there a lot of laughter? Did any house ever contain so much love?

I had the rare privilege of attending Mass inside the Holy House. While I was contemplating the sacred space, I noticed that some young men were setting up the altar for Mass; that can’t be right, Mass is celebrated in the basilica, not in this tiny space that can hold only a few people. But, as I watched it became clear that we were about to celebrate Mass! I think I held my breath hoping I’d be allowed to stay; surely a Mass in this holy place would be invitation only, wouldn’t it? Soon, a bishop entered wearing his chasuble and red skull cap and celebrated Mass for a dozen or so people crowded into the tiny space! This Mass was not on the schedule and everyone was as surprised and delighted as I was, more and more people tried to wedge their way into the space, some even kneeling to look through the door. It turns out, a bishop was visiting from Peru and requested permission to celebrate the Mass in the Holy House. It was one of those experiences I’ll never forget. If you ever have a chance; please come visit the Holy Mother in her Holy House; you will not be disappointed.

 

 

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