Leigh Hatts  

Loreto’s Holy House is where Christmas began

Our Lady of Loreto has been the patron of pilots since 1920.

The feast of Our Lady of Loreto, also called the Translation of the Holy House, today Thursday 10 December marks the arrival at Loreto in Italy of the house where Mary lived and heard from the angel that she was to give birth to the Messiah.

The little house arrived in 1294. The journey of the 23ft 6in x 12ft 10in building from Nazareth had began in 1291 with a three year pause at Trsat in Croatia where there is a shrine known as the Croatian Nazareth.

The tiny building had stood against a cave which was part of the home. At Loreto it was first at the bottom of the hill for about eight months until lifted up to the summit wreathed in laurels.

The sandstone and brick house without any of its foundations is now encased in marble and enclosed by a large church, the Santuario della Santa Casa built in 1468, just as Christ’s outdoor tomb in Jerusalem is also now protected within a church.

The house was moved from Nazareth via Coatia by a family called Angelos which gave rise to a belief that the building was carried by angels and has resulted in the charming iconography of flying and even swimming angels carrying the little house.

The flying story led to Our Lady of Loreto, whose statue is in the Holy House, being declared the patron of pilots and air crews a century ago this year.

Recent archaeological excavations at Loreto and Nazareth have
confirmed the authenticity of the Holy House.

Many people have been intrigued by Loreto including painter JMW Turner who sketched the Holy House in 1819. John Henry Newman visited in the year of his ordination 1847.

Buried in the basilica’s Lady Chapel is Richard Crashaw, Little St Mary’s Cambridge curate, who in 1648 wrote the Christmas carol Gloomy Night.

Last year Pope Francis restored the feast of Our Lady of Loreto to the universal calendar making it an option for observance today.

The importance of the day is that it allows us now in Advent to recall the Annunciation. The appearance of the angel to Mary, The Annunciation, is observed nine months before Christmas on 25 March when it is also often largely forgotten due to the approach of Easter.

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