that in the heart of Marche, in the borders between the provinces of Ancona and Macerata, there is a town called Loreto, which each year attracts more than 4 million visitors? What makes this borough of 12 thousand residents so special? Is it its strategic position on top of a hill, overlooking the Adriatic Sea, or the stunning views towards Monte Conero (the heart of the Conero Riviera) that attract so many people from all Italy and beyond? Let’s find out!
Indeed, on top of the Loreto’s hills proudly stands one of the 3 most visited cathedrals in Italy. It is undoubtedly large and beautiful but why is it so popular? Is it its magnificence, its size or maybe the art inside it that has such an important role to all Catholics and Christian believers? These certainly aren’t the only reasons.
As the Basilica of Loreto is beyond all the above: it is unique! For in its center lays down the Holy House of the Virgin Mary – the house in Nazareth that she inhabited before the birth of the God’s Son, where she conceived and raised Jesus in his early years! The one and only Holy House!
It is then obvious why the Basilica of Loreto has such an importance for the Catholic World but I would like to tell you why it so special for me. I have been living in Loreto for the last 6 years and have often visited the Sanctuary of the Holy House. In my opinion, the Santa Casa (as it is called in Italian) is undoubtedly one of the most sacred places I have ever been to, notwithstanding its enormous importance for the Catholic World. Being Bulgarian I am also an Orthodox and although my religion is Christian, I was used to visiting and praying in Orthodox churches since I was a child – those small, dark temples decorated with icons and lit by thousands of candles that fill up the air with their specific aroma of something burnt and creating this smoky but cosy, warm atmosphere of a place you belong to. Although I admire the Catholic churches and cathedrals, I have to admit that they are so beautiful and magnificent that when inside them, instead of feeling in a sacred place, I have the sensation of being in a museum or an art gallery, where I feel like visiting and admiring the art rather then praying. The Holy House of Loreto is the only Catholic place where I feel home, I feel as if I am in one of those dark tiny little Orthodox churches filled with incense, magic and power where I could really feel closer to God, where prayers come out naturally and nothing else matters…
You may be curious how the Holy House from Nazareth is today located on the Adriatic coast of Italy? There are a few versions explaining the mystery, the most popular being a 14th century legend and a more scientific explanation.
According to the legend, after the crusaders left the Holy Land and it came under the control of Muslims in 1263, the Holy House of the Virgin Mary was transported by angels to a place known as Croatia today, during 1291. It was found by a shepherd who was revealed in a vision by Mary herself to be her house. It was in that period when the Holy house had disappeared from Nazareth.
It was then again transported by the angels in 1294, to the other part of the Adriatic Sea, to Recanati and finally, one year after, in 1295, it found its final position into a laurel grove, called the ‘Lauretanum,’ from where the name of Loreto comes from. The legend also says that when the Virgin’s House was lowered by the angels the the trees around bowed down in respect.
The scientific research, however, insists that the transportation of the Holy House was done by sea and was not flown by angels. Moreover, monks and crusaders were often referred to as ‘angels’ by the common people during the medieval period thus explaining the myth of ‘angels’ transporting the Holy House from Nazareth to Loreto on their wings. Indeed, after centuries of research, in 1962 archaeological and literature evidence suggest that the house in the center of the Basilica of Loreto, may actually originate from the lands of Nazareth for its limestone and cedar construction materials are typical for that land and period and are not to be found in Marche.
The Holy House, located in the center of the Basilica today, is quite small, consisting of a single room. The original House had three walls with the fourth being open towards the entrance of the grotto where today stands the altar with a statue of a Black Madonna. Two different parts can be identified in the construction of the Santa Casa : the original wall, about 3 meters high, built in regular row and with limestone blocks found in Palestine and a newer upper section built with Marche local bricks. There are six graffiti, similar to those found in the Holy Land, belonging to ancient periods.
Almost two centuries after the appearance of the Holy House in Loreto, in 1469, a large Basilica was built around it. It has been reconstructed and remodeled several times over the centuries and today it has a Renaissance exterior and a Gothic interior. Soon after the construction of the Basilica it became very popular in Italy, and by the 16th century it was visited by pilgrims from all over Europe.
Inside the Basilica, exactly below the Dome, there is a huge marble concourse, surrounding the Holy House. The Marble Screen, representing Bible scenes, together with a scene representing the legend of the angels flying the house, was assigned by Julius II, who, in 1507, sent Donato Bramante to Loreto to do “great things” there and to “draw many works”. There are two obvious paths formed in the hard stone concourse, left by the millions of pilgrims who would circumnavigate the Holy shrine on their knees.
The Virgin of Loreto is considered the patron saint of pilots, emigrants, and expectant mothers. Each year, on December 10, pilgrims and citizens celebrate the arrival of the Holy House in Loreto. The little town has become one of the most popular places in Marche throughout the centuries and undoubtedly a must-visited site for all the Christian pilgrims worldwide.
Today the Sanctuary of the Holy House is site No 2, according to TripAdvisor (in my opinion it should be definitely in 1st position ) and therefore I highly recommend you visit Loreto and its Basilica, even if you have just a single day in Marche. You do not need to be a believer or a Christian in order to appreciate the magnificence and uniqueness of this place. No matter if you are simply an art lover or a curious tourist who would like to expand his culture, the Holy House of Loreto will be worth visiting!
Personal visits 2011-2016