THE HOLY HOUSE OF LORETO
In the town of Loreto in southern Italy there is a shrine which contains the little cottage of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph at Nazareth. How did it get from Nazareth in the Galilee to Italy? According to reliable accounts, it was miraculously translated by angels first from Nazareth to the Dalmatian coast (presentday Croatia) on May 10th, 1291, and then again to Loreto, Italy, on December 10th, 1294.
These miracles occurred in order to prevent the destruction of this precious relic by the Muslim armies which were avenging the Crusader conquests into Palestine and destroying the Christian shrines in retaliation. To prevent the Holy House from falling victim to the fortunes of war Heaven saw fit to preserve it by detaching it from its foundation and re-locate it by the most extraordinary miraculous means. What was left in Nazareth were the foundation outline and the natural cave or grotto against which the house had been built. This is the Grotto of the Annunciation which may still be seen by pilgrims to Nazareth today.
We should not think that the people of the late 13th Century easily believed that this event had occurred. Delegations were sent to make the dangerous trek into Saracen-held territory to measure the Nazareth foundation for themselves and they were astonished to find that they did indeed correspond to the cottage now in their midst.
Here is a summary account of the 1294 Translation to Loreto by Jesuit Father Horace Torellini’s from his book History of Loreto (1597) [quoted from Rev. G.E. Phillips, Loreto and the Holy House, A.D. 1917]: In the quiet night the sacred house of the Blessed Virgin was seated in a void place of the adoresaid wood. At which time the shepherds of Recanati, keeping their flocks in the next chase, and dividing the vigil of the night amongst them (as their manner is), suddenly a great light environing the sacred house, drew the eyes of the warders to it, to whom it seemed wonderful upon the sudden to see a new house in that solitary place, but especially glittering with great brightness. And there was one among them who avouched that he saw it when it came on high over the sea. Wherefore, awaking their fellows to behold the spectacle, first they questioned among themselves (as the fashion of wonderers is), and then with mutual words animating each other to go see what it was, all began to conjecture, as indeed it was, to wit, that it was some heavenly thing. When they came unto it they went into the house itself, and as soon as they had passed the threshold, a great dread came suddenly upon them; but presently being replenished with a certain unwonted sweetness, they spent the night devoutly in prayer, diligently viewing whatsoever was under the roof. Whereupon, at the break of day certain of them went to Recanati, almost four miles from that place to relate unto their masters what they had seen. At first, for their simplicity they did not only contemn them, but also the matter itself, supposing that they related a vain thing. But the shepherds affirming with all asseveration that their own eyes might witness it unto them, if they would, their masters were more willing to believe them, and at last went with them to see what it was. When they came to the place of the wood foretold, and the shepherds’ news proved true, none almost believed their own eyes; for in very deed that house was never seen there before, nor newly built, as the antiquity thereof did manifestly show. With great wonder, discoursing thus among themselves, they went nearer to it to behold the roof, to be noted not so much for fashion, as for antiquity; and greatly admired that such an ancient building could stand without a foundation or any support at all...They ran back to the city with all speed, rejoicing much among themselves that Almighty God had vouchsafed to bestow so rare a gift on them and their country.