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Sanctuary of the Holy House

I’ve often been along the coast of the Marche, traveling down from San Marino and Rimini to Pescara and Bari. As the road trails south of Ancona, Loreto lies nearby on the crown of its hill, set among the vineyards and orchards, a bright vision with the sun blazing off its ornate Baroque dome. Until recently, I’d never found the time to visit this Sanctuary to the Holy House. What a pity, for Loreto is surely a delightfully picturesque hilltown.

This town is one of those exquisitely built mixed medieval-renaissance-baroque places that dot the Tuscan, Umbrian and Marchegiano countryside wherever you travel. Its built on the ridge of a hill, not so high but high enough to enjoy fresh summer breezes. The buildings are of warm bricks and cool stones with great wooden beams set in place to hold up tiled rooves. Classically Italian.

Loreto’s heart is around its main square too, but its soul is completely different, for the town is here because the Holy House is here. La “Casa Santa” is the house of Mary of Nazareth (see the story below), now encased within Bramante’s splendid marble screens and protected by the great Basilica that Popes have erected over the course of many centuries. Loreto is, in many respects, the Lourdes of France or the Fatima of Portugal.

Everyone goes into the Basilica to see the “Casa Santa” of course. Yes, it is possible to go inside the Holy House itself, which some authorities assert is made of bricks from Judea/Palestine. The interior of the Basilica itself is a delight. There’s a chapel with incredibly beautiful early Renaissance frescoes and a whole sectionin High Gothic style dedicated by the German Emperors and still maintained by a noted German company. Most surprising of all are the four panels of dark stone mounted high on the walls of the Basilica that relate the story of the Holy House in four different languages: English, Welsh, Gaelic and Lowland Scots! All thanks to an English Jesuit in 1634 – who would have imagined that?

Loreto is a truly lovely small town to go and spend a lazy afternoon in. There’s history, religion, art, great views and the usual wonderful food just waiting for you, a few moments from that busy, hot, crowded autostrada.

Loreto is by the sea just south of Ancona, so the weather is mild in winter and warm in the summer, with an occasional breeze from the sea in front or mountains behind.

At Eastertime there is a pageant of people in historic costumes to recall “The Passion of Christ” nd perform old medieval miracle plays. The “Virgo Lauretana” International Sacred Music Festival is held after Easter.

On September 8th the great festival of ”Settembre Lauretano” takes place, with religious events, processions, the “Corsa del Drappo” horse race and numerous other events.

On December 9th the “Festa della Venuta” celebrates the discovery of the Holy House; in the country around people light fires and ring church bells. Then on the 10th there is a procession and full ceremonial Mass in the Basilica, where people are seen to arive on their knees.

Interesting places nearby include Ancona, Macerata

A little bit of history

Loreto wasn’t anything special until, one day in December 1294, a three-walled house with a doorway and a window but no roof and no foundations was suddenly found in the middle of a country path. Just like a fairy tale. This one proved to be a Christian miracle of sorts, the house of Mary of Nazareth magically transported by angels from that town to this hill (with a short stop-over in Croatia). The Catholic Church soon took note, cautiously, and had the house moved from Laura’s orchard to a more convenient location; from this the town of Loreto was born. Since Loreto falls within the Papal States, no other history of note has really happened here since that is different from the region as a whole. Which makes it a splendid place to visit!

Article, photograph and video © Carl Ottersen