The Miraculous Holy House of Loreto
Our Lady of Loreto
St. Francis of Assisi went to the Holy Land, in 1220, to convert the Saracens or die trying. During his time there, he went to Nazareth and spent time at the Holy House, where the Annunciation took place, where the Holy Family lived from the time they returned from Egypt until Jesus began His public Ministry. Francis spent much time, praying there. We believe the Holy Family spoke to him in the little House; because when he came back to Italy, he went out on the road, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom.
One of the first places he went to was a little town of no accord, north of Assisi, off the Adriatic Sea, about thirty miles inland from Ancona. The town was called Loreto. Francis told his brothers to begin preaching there. They looked around and protested, saying the town was too small and the area too remote. Francis prophesied “Someday this place will be known as the holiest place on earth.”
Seventy four years later, the Holy House of Nazareth arrived in Loreto. Had Mother Mary spoken to St. Francis about this move when he was in Nazareth, before the Crusaders had lost the battle, and had been expelled from the Holy Land? He knew something! Was this one of the many things our Holy Family shared with this, one of their favorite sons?
Our Lord Jesus loves His Mother Mary. He watches out for Her, and protects everything on earth that had anything to do with Her time here. 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.
St. Helena, Emperor Constantine’s mother, had made churches of all the holy places in Jesus’ life. It was as if the Saracens believed, if they took away these outward signs of Jesus, they could wipe away that Love that beats in each and every person’s heart, that longing to be more, to love and be loved more. We wonder, were the Saracens the ones who really wanted to destroy man’s hope, or could it be it was the fallen angels who know all too well the needs and desires of the human heart?
The Saracens went on a rampage. There would not be a stone left upon a stone on any of the holy places. If there were no longer any Shrines where Jesus was born, where He grew up, where He taught, where He healed and called man to new life in His Father, where He died for us, where He rose giving us eternal hope that we, too, would rise, then man would forget he has a Savior, and have no reason to live. Satan was having a field day. He could see the last remnants of Christianity destroyed in this Holy Land.
The Saracens descended on Bethlehem. They went to the church built over the spot where Christ was born. They would level it! But when they approached the building, they believed to be where He was born, they saw a mosaic outside depicting three Arab kings (the three wise men). This could not be the place of Jesus’ birth, they thought. This is a mosque, dedicated to Arab kings of the past. So they left this place, and continued looking for the birthplace of Jesus. Our Lord had used the Angels to form a shield around the church, which blocked the minds and senses of the Saracens. He would not allow this place, where His Mother had given birth to Him, to be desecrated.
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.
If God, in His majesty, wants to set aside the laws of Nature, and give Angels bodies with wings, and superhuman strength to pick up large objects, like houses, and transport them at the speed of light anywhere He chooses, we say Yes, Lord, praise You Lord, thank You Lord. Jesus tells us, “I assure you, if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you would be able to say to this mountain, `Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible for you.” (Mt17:20)
Do I believe God can move mountains, and with faith I can? Yes, because He told me so. Do I believe God, through His Angels, lifted up the Holy House and moved it out of Nazareth to protect it from the hatred of His enemies? Yes, because I have seen it. Do I believe God can move men’s hearts? Now, I shout yes from the mountain tops because through prayer, I have experienced it.
We believe there has always been a legion of Angels protecting the house of the Annunciation. Here, Gabriel appeared to Mary, and the Holy Family lived until Jesus began His public ministry. We believe Gabriel never left this place. But now, when danger seemed so imminent, we can visualize an army of Angels racing down from Heaven, their wings glistening in the sun, Michael joining Gabriel, his red cape whirling around him. The sky was filled with Angels, from one end of the horizon to the other. The earth shook with the vibrations of their wings. They swooped down and formed a barricade around the house. The Angels were here, and they meant business!
Our Lord had good reason to call forth His Angels. The Basilica, built over the Holy House, had been destroyed twice before by the Arabs, once as long ago as 1090 A.D. For some unknown reason, they had never disturbed the crypt (lower church), where the Holy House and the grotto were located. The Crusaders rebuilt the Basilica shortly after they arrived in Nazareth. Acts of sacrilege by the Moslems, were a major reason the Crusades began in the first place; for it was right after the atrocity to the Basilica of the Annunciation that the Holy War began.
The second time, the Basilica was destroyed, was in 1263. Again, the crypt was not disturbed, praise God. But then, the Crusaders were not able to rebuild the Basilica, and the Holy House was left unprotected. When it was evident the Crusaders had lost the Holy Land in 1291, our Lord Jesus decided that since He could not depend on man to protect this holy place, He would send the Angels. They would surely defend this Shrine to His Blessed Mother and their Queen. The Lord gave the Angels a mandate!
“Move the Holy House; take it to a safer place, far from the hatred of My enemies in this land of My birth. Lift it; lift it high into the air, where they can’t get at it. Don’t let them see it.”
We can be sure Michael and Gabriel were in charge, supervising the movement of this most holy place, where the Holy Spirit had formed the Savior of the world in the womb of Mary. In unison, the Angels raised the house from its foundation, and carried it high into the sky, resting it upon clouds which hid it from the earth. When the Saracens arrived, with hatred in their hearts, craving to pillage and burn, they were astonished. There was nothing there! Only the grotto remained. They left it alone; it had no meaning to them.
The Angels transport Our Lady and the Holy House
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.
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.”
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.