For hundreds of years, the Shrine of the Holy House of Loreto has been among the most popular destinations for Marian devotees in Italy. With a jubilee just weeks away, and a new status on the Church’s liturgical calendar, the shrine’s importance seems destined to continue to grow.
According to Diletta D’Agostini, a journalist who works in communications for the shrine, because of the historic relics Loreto holds, it “preserves and safeguards” the walls of what’s believed to be the house in which the Virgin Mary grew up.
Located roughly 153 miles northeast of Rome, Loreto is home to what’s believed to be the house in which the Virgin Mary was born, where she was visited by the Archangel Gabriel, where she subsequently conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Family later lived.
Tradition holds that the Holy House of Loreto, made of three stone walls, was carried by angels from Nazareth to Loreto on the night of Dec. 9-10 in 1294, making a three-year stop in Croatia along the way.
Angeli Family and Angels
Guardians of the shrine say the stones of the house were taken from the Holy Land and shipped to Italy by a member of the prominent local Angeli family. That family name in Italian means “angels,” leading many to believe that this is where the popular belief that the house was carried to Italy by angels has its roots.
The shrine routinely holds events for young people, families and the sick. It also runs a hotel for pilgrims and tourists, and it has a conference center for large meetings and retreats.
Loreto also holds special significance for the Bishop of Rome. In October 1962, St. John XXIII became the first pope to leave Rome since pontiffs had declared themselves “Prisoners of the Vatican” after the loss of the papal states in 1870 during the unification of Italy.
During his trip to Loreto, John XXIII asked the Madonna to intercede on behalf of the Second Vatican Council just before it opened. St. John Paul II then visited the shrine five times and Benedict XVI twice.
Francis himself visited Loreto in March. During the trip, he announced his decision to grant the Shrine of the Holy House an extraordinary jubilee in honor of the centenary of the proclamation of Our Lady of Loreto as the patroness of aviation and air travel.
Announced March 25, the jubilee will begin Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and it will conclude in 2020 on the Dec. 10 feast of Our Lady of Loreto.
The Vatican’s Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, will inaugurate the jubilee by opening the Holy Door at the Loreto shrine. According to tradition, any pilgrim who passes through the door will be able to obtain a plenary indulgence, which means the remission of punishment due to sin.
Francis further upped Loreto’s profile on Oct. 31 when he issued a decree adding the Dec. 10 feast of Our Lady of Loreto to all calendars and liturgical books for the celebration of the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church’s official daily prayer.
In the decree, dated on the Oct. 7 feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, it was said that putting the Loreto feast day on the Catholic Church’s universal calendar “will help all people, especially families, youth and religious to imitate the virtues of the perfect disciple of the Gospel, the Virgin Mother, who, in conceiving the head of the Church also accepted us as her own.”
Welcoming thousands of visitors a year, the Loreto shrine is the most important Marian pilgrimage destination in Italy, and over the course of the jubilee it will likely see a significant uptick in the number of visitors who come to pray and venerate the Mother of God.
In an interview with Vatican News, Archbishop Fabio Dal Cin, the papal delegate to the shrine, said the jubilee was a “great opportunity to strengthen the bonds of devotion to the Mother of Heaven.”