With May being the month of celebrating our mothers, it would be fitting to recognize the most holy of mothers: the mother of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary. There are multitudes of churches, cathedrals and holy sites around the world honoring the Virgin Mary, but one of the most visited sites in the world is the Holy House of Loreto. This location is considered a Marian shrine, which is a site marking an apparition or other miracle attributed to the Virgin Mary.
People all over the world have journeyed to the Holy House of Loreto since the 14th century to stand inside the walls where reportedly the Virgin Mary was born, raised and greeted by the angel Gabriel. The story told over the years is that angels carried the Holy House from Palestine to Italy. While there many doubt the legend’s authenticity, historic documents may have vindicated this—with an ironic twist.
The Holy House reportedly arrived in Loreto, Italy on December 10, 1294 from the Holy Land as the Crusaders were driven out of Palestine. In 1900, documents were discovered in the Vatican Archives, stating that in the 13th century, a wealthy Byzantine family rescued “materials” of “Our Lady’s House” from Muslim invaders and then had them transported to Italy. This Byzantine family was named Angeli, which means ‘angels’ in Greek and Latin.
A coin minted by a member of the Angeli family was also found in the foundation of the house in Loreto. In Italy, coins were often inserted into a building’s foundation to indicate who was responsible for its construction.
Excavations in both Nazareth and Loreto found similar building materials at both sites—Palestine and Loreto. The stones that make up the lower walls of the Holy House in Loreto appear to have been finished with a technique particular in Palestine. At both locations, there are almost identical inscriptions in Greek and Hebrew letters that read, “O Jesus Christ, Son of God.”
The Holy House is encased in marble in the center of the basilica and is 31 feet long and 13 feet wide. Inside the Holy House is the famous statue of the Black Madonna. Sculpted in cedar of Lebanon, it was created in the likeness of an ancient icon of Mary that is believed to have been painted by St. Luke.
Over the centuries, countless pilgrims have visited Loreto, including many saints. There have also been many miracles and conversions. The Holy House of Loreto, unlike many other shrines, is under the direct authority and protection of the pope. In 1993, St. John Paul II called the Holy House of Loreto the “foremost shrine of international import dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.”
To view a documentary on the Holy House, visit YouTube and search for ‘The Mystery of the Holy House.’