The Translation of the Holy House of Loreto

Today is the feast day of the The Translation of the Holy House of Loreto.

December 10

by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

By “the Holy House,” we understand the blessed house, or rather a part, a room of it, in which Mary, the Blessed Virgin, lived for three years, and afterwards was greeted by the Angel; in which the only Son of God became man and dwelt for a long time with his pure Mother and his holy foster-father. This sacred dwelling first stood at Nazareth in Galilee, a province of Syria. The Apostles consecrated it as the first Church in Christendom; the first Christians held it in high honor, and pious pilgrims visited it with great devotion. Helena, the great and holy Empress, built over it a magnificent temple, which, in the course of time, was destroyed by the barbarians. When, in 1291, God in His incomprehensible Wisdom, decreed that the infidels should become possessors of the Holy Land, the Christians were driven out of it, and pilgrims were no longer permitted to visit the holy house. But the Almighty, who would preserve the honor and veneration in which this holy house had until then been held, wrought to this end a miracle such as the world had neither seen nor heard of. In the night of the ninth day of May, in the above year, the holy house was suddenly taken from the ground on which it had stood for more than twelve hundred years, and lifted through the temple erected over it, which parted in the middle, and it was carried by the Angels over land and sea, from Galilee to the far off Dalmatia, where it was placed between Tersatto and Fiume, not far from the Adriatic sea. When, early in the morning of the following day, some people saw this unknown little chapel, they informed the inhabitants of the above-mentioned towns of it, and the amazement of all was indescribable.

Alexander, the provost, or ecclesiastical Superior of Tersatto, who was at that time very ill, greatly desired to know what little church it was, and whence it had come. During his fervent prayers, the Divine Mother appeared to him, and informed him of what he desired to know; with the addition that the immediate reestablishment of his health should be a sure miproof of the truth of what she had revealed to him. Alexander awoke, found himself perfectly restored, left his bed, and gave due thanks to God and the Queen of heaven for the grace which had been bestowed upon him. No sooner had daylight appeared, than he went through all the streets of the town and announced to the people the revelation which he had had the night previous in regard to the little church ; and, followed by all the inhabitants of the place, he went full of heartfelt devotion to the holy house. There he prostrated himself and gave humble thanks to God, who had so unexpectedly bestowed so great a treasure on him and his flock.

Nicholas Frangipane, the Governor of Dalmatia, desiring to examine the matter thoroughly, sent four respectable men to Nazareth in Galilee. Having arrived there and gained admittance by paying a large sum of money, they asked the few Christians who still dwelt there, where they could find the sacred house wherein the Divine Mother had been greeted by the Angel, and the Son of God had been made man. The Christians replied that it had been suddenly taken away one night, but they did not know by whom, nor why it had been taken, nor where it was at present. They showed them the place where it had been and the foundations on which it had stood; and told them what had been in the house, namely, a picture of the Blessed Virgin and an Altar. The deputies measured the length and breadth of the place where the holy house had stood, and the width of the foundation, and found that all corresponded exactly with the chapel that had appeared in Dalmatia. In like manner, the time at which the holy house had been taken away from Nazareth, agreed with the time of its arrival in Dalmatia. The deputies also had seen, in the little chapel, all those articles which the Christians of Nazareth described as having been in the holy house. Hence there could remain no doubt of the truth of the revelation which had been made to the pious Alexander.

Giving due thanks to God, they returned rejoicingly, and publicly announced the result of their journey. From that moment, the people flocked in crowds towards the holy house, and God wrought many miracles on the infirm who took refuge within its holy walls. But the joy of the people of Dalmatia did not last long; for hardly had three years and seven months passed, when the holy house was taken from them. It was carried by Angels over the Adriatic sea, and arrived in Italy, surrounded by a heavenly light, in December, 1294. The Sovereign Pontiff decreed that the 10th of December, the day on which this happened, should be yearly commemorated in Italy. The happy spot where the holy chapel had placed itself, was a wood near Ancona, which belonged to a widow named Lauretta, from which the house was afterwards called the House of Loretto. Some pious shepherds, who watched by their flock, had seen this miraculous transfer of the Holy House, and approaching the spot where the house had rested, they were not less amazed than the inhabitants of Dalmatia had been when they first perceived it. When this became known, on the following day, every one ran to the Holy House. All were convinced that a miracle had taken place, but had no idea whence the Holy House had come. The many miracles which took place there, as in Dalmatia, on the infirm, drew thither a multitude of pilgrims. Some godless men took the opportunity to attack, plunder and even kill, in the stillness of the wood, many of the pious pilgrims.

Such terrible wickedness could not be suffered near the sacred house; and before eight months had passed, the Angels took it again, and placed it nearer to the town of Recanati, where it rested on a hill. This hill belonged to two brothers of the nobility, who at first rejoiced at the grace thus bestowed upon them, but afterwards quarrelled on account of the rich offerings which the pilgrims made to the Holy House, of which each of them desired the larger share. At last, the one challenged the other to a duel. God, however, put an end to this strife. The Holy House, which had hardly stood two months on that spot, was again taken by Angels and placed not far off on the public highway. Thus its site was changed four times in the space of five years. This was done, without doubt, that so great a miracle as this translation should be much more readily believed by all persons, since it had so frequently taken place before the eyes of a great number of people. These frequent changes greatly astonished the inhabitants of Recanati and of all the neighboring places; they did not know what little church it was, nor how or why it changed its place so often. They, however, bore in their hearts great devotion to it; for they could not help perceiving, by the transfers and by the miracles that took place in it, that the Almighty favored this little church.

The inhabitants of Dalmatia at last discovered the secret of the holy building; for, as the frequent removal of the house became known, they immediately supposed that it must be the little chapel that had been taken away from them. Hence, crossing the sea, they came to the place where the Holy House stood, and recognizing it, they wept bitterly that they had lost it. After this they related to the inhabitants of Recanati how sacred this little house was and how greatly honored by the Almighty; who had lived in it; how sacred the mysteries which had taken place in it; and how they had come to this knowledge. All present were greatly amazed at these words, and prostrating themselves, they gave humble thanks to God, and held the house in great honor. But in order to leave nothing undone to arrive at all the facts of so miraculous an event, the inhabitants of Recanati sent a special deputation, first to Dalmatia, and thence to Nazareth in Galilee, to investigate the truth of all that had been told them with regard to the little chapel. At the return of the deputation, there was no longer any doubt that the house or chapel was the sacred dwelling in which the Virgin Mother had been born; where she had received the greeting of the Angel, and where the only Son of God had become man. Another deputation, which was sent for the same purpose some years later, by Pope Clement VII., after having carefully examined, both in Dalmatia and at Nazareth, the above facts, attested the perfect truth of the same. It may be said that there is not a fact to be found in the history of the Church, which has been more thoroughly investigated than this one. (1)

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.

Accepted Tradition

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.” 

Image: Santuario della Santa Casa in Loreto – Casa Santa (8)

Research by REGINA Staff






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