The Holy House of Mary
Here in Loreto -- where my family and I have been living since 2014 -- there is preserved underneath a magnificent basilica the childhood home of a different sort: the “Holy House of Mary.” What remains of Mary’s house is quite simple: just three walls of stacked stones. Yet, it is believed that within those walls Mary, the daughter of Anna and Joachim, grew up and received the Annunciation.
What a mystery to consider the memories that are contained within! For this is the place where the angel, Gabriel, appeared and she responded with her Fiat, “Yes, may it be done to me according to your will; I will be the mother of the Lord, the Messiah” (Luke 1:38).
The walls were originally affixed onto a grotto in Nazareth which can still be visited today within the Basilica of the Annunciation. Two years ago, Katia and I spent five days in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but, unfortunately, did not make it up to Galilee. We did see photographs of the grotto, however.
In this case, it was a Greek nobleman who financed the relocation of Mary’s House as part a wedding dowry for the duke’s daughter who married Philip of Taranto in 1294. But it never made it to Taranto. The stones arrived first in Croatia in AD 1291 and then, between December 9-10, 1294, were placed among a forest of laurel trees (in Latin, Lauretum), now called Loreto. Since that time, the walls here have been revered as the house of Mary.
It should be noted that there is more to the Holy House than simple pious devotion. In the 1970s, studies were conducted and archaeologists determined that the stones in Loreto were, indeed, not from this region and were, instead, cut according to first-century Palestinian methods. Additionally, they studied the numerous ancient inscriptions (called graffiti) engraved in the rocks and confirmed they were ancient Christian symbols used in Palestine prior to the fifth century AD. Further, the three walls that are now in Loreto fit perfectly within a sunken space around the cave in the Nazareth basilica.
But what about the tradition of the “angels” who brought the house here? The name of the family who financed the expedition, in fact, was “Angelos.” Therefore, it seems that there was even some truth to that old tale as well.
There is no doubt, hence, that the stones in Loreto were once affixed to the grotto underneath the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Whether or not the house belonged to Mary, however, is unclear. According to tradition, the ancient home in Nazareth was identified as Mary’s House by the Apostles in the first century. Later, in the fourth century, Constantine’s mother, Helena, constructed the first basilica. The site in Nazareth has remained as a place of devotion for pilgrims ever since -- even after the house was removed in the 13th century.
Some say that it is not important whether Mary lived within the house, as the Holy House of Loreto remains a special place of prayer and devotion. Over the centuries, in fact, millions of people have come to Loreto to honor the sacred relic. Pilgrims and the sick as well as tourists and beach goers alike come here from all over the world. Many receive graces while some testify to true miracles. Doubtless, the faith of many increases.
Testifying to the blessings received is a huge hall with Renaissance-era frescoes known as the Pomarancio within the basilica. The walls are filled with “ex-voto” offerings -- gifts given after fulfillment of a vow made to Mary (ex voto suscepto “from the vow made”) or out of gratitude or devotion for blessings received through her intercession. The gifts are expressions of the countless gifts received through Mary’s intercession over the centuries.
The feast of the “Translation” of the Holy House is celebrated on December 9 each year -- when it arrived in Loreto. Our Lady of Loreto is the namesake of women named Loretta, Lori, and other derivatives. Our Lady of Loreto is the patroness of aviators including astronauts and pilots, as well as the sick and infirmed.
Since the 1930s, the Holy House has been administered by the Capuchin friars. It is a wonderful place to go for Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, or confession.
If you have any prayers or intercessions, Katia and I regularly pray for people and their intentions in the Holy House -- here, where the handmaiden of the Lord said “Yes, I will do your will.”