The Holy House where Virgin Mary was born, her Son Jesus was conceived and raised can be visited today in a small town of Loreto in Italy.
According to an old tradition, Mary’s house in Nazareth (where she was born, where Angel appeared to her, where Jesus was conceived and later raised) was converted into a chapel by the apostles after Jesus’s Ascension. Three centuries later St. Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine built a basilica around the little house. The basilica was standing (partially rebuilt later by Crusaders) until the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the 13th century.
The same tradition tells us that due to the threat of destruction, the walls of the house were transported by the angels from Nazareth to Tersatto, Croatia in 1291; then to Recanati, Italy in 1294; and finally to its current location in Loreto in 1295. Most recent research however suggests that the walls more likely were transported to Loreto not by the angels but by the members of the Angeli family. Regardless of how the Holy House ended up in Loreto, scientists confirm that the bricks and mortar in the walls are the same as the bricks and mortar used in other buildings in Nazareth during the rule of the Roman Empire. Graffiti on the bricks is also the same as found on Judeo-Christian buildings in Nazareth of that same time. Authenticity of the Holy House was also confirmed by the Marian apparitions were Mary has told that this house was the one where she was born, lived and conceived Jesus. Over the centuries multiple popes encouraged devotion to Our Lady of Loreto and to her Holy House. Numerous miraculous healing have been reported after praying to Our Lady of Loreto in this House.
The basilica was built around the Holy House in Loreto in 15th century with the ornate marble structure inside of the basilica covering the Holy House itself. There are also a few chapels inside of the basilica that were painted with the offerings of Catholics from various countries (including the Chapel of the Assumption which was painted with the offerings of American Catholics). There is a statue of Our Lady of Loreto inside the Holy House with a little altar where Mass is celebrated. Pilgrims can enter the Holy House and pray inside of it every day.
Famous Pilgrims Who Visited Holy House of Loreto
St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier visited the Holy House on their way to Rome to obtain the papal confirmation for the Jesuit order. St. Francis Xavier came back to Loreto second time shortly before his mission to India.
Another Jesuit, St. Francis Borgia made three pilgrimages to Loreto. During one of them he was having a very bad fever which started to diminish as he was getting closer to the Holy House and completely disappeared when he arrived there. St. Francis’s last pilgrimage was shortly before his death and during that pilgrimage he saw a vision of Our Lady covering him with her mantle.
St. Charles Borromeo visited the Holy House multiple times. His last pilgrimage was in 1579. That time he traveled 50 miles on foot to Loreto and after arriving on the vigil of the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady spent the whole night praying in the Holy House.
St. Aloysius Gonzaga’s mother made a vow during his birth and he will make a pilgrimage to the Holy House if his life (which was at the danger of death during birth) was saved. St. Aloysius made the pilgrimage and spent hours praying in the Holy House while on his way to Rome where he was going to join the Jesuits.
St James of La Marca (a Franciscan) was celebrating Mass in the Holy House asking for a healing when Mary appeared to him after the consecration and said that he was healed. St James immediately felt that his illness was gone and he was healthy again.
Multiple other saints visited the Holy House: St. Therese of Lisieux (The Little Flower), St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Peter Canisius, St. Francis de Sales and others.
A lot of popes made pilgrimages to Loreto as well, among them St. John XXIII, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI.
How to Travel to Loreto
Loreto is located at the center of the western part of Italy, a few miles from the Adriatic Sea. It is a small town with about 12 thousands of residents. Train is the easiest way to reach Loreto. It takes about 4 hours 30 minutes to travel by train to Loreto from Rome, 4-6 hours from Florence or Milan, 6-8 hours from Naples. There is only one transfer (in Ancona) when traveling from Rome, usually two transfers when travelling from Florence or Milan and 2-3 transfers when travelling from Naples. So it is easier to travel to Loreto from Rome than from any other major Italian city. The cost of travel is also lowest if you travel from Rome – you can find tickets for under 12 euro if you book them three or more months before your trip. Tickets from Milan cost 16-41 euro, from Florence – 23-33 euro, from Naples – 29-36 euro if booked three or more months in advance.
You can combine a pilgrimage to Loreto with a pilgrimage to Assisi. Train trip between the two towns lasts about 3 hours with 2 transfers and costs 12-16 euro if booked three or more months before the travel date.
Train tickets can be booked on Trenitaliawebsite. The earlier you book your trip the lower price you will pay for your ticket. You can start booking about 5 months before the travel date.
Trains to Loreto departure from Rome’s “Roma Termini” station; from Milan’s “Milano Centrale” station; Florence’s “Firenze S.M. Novella” station; or Naples’s “Napoli Centrale” station.
Before arriving in Loreto you will have to transfer in Ancona which is around 20 minutes by train from Loreto. Ancona’s train station is small so transfer will not be complicated. If you arrive in Ancona late (as I did) you can take the next available train to Loreto. Trains from Ancona to Loreto go at least once per hour (often even more frequently).
When you arrive in Loreto, the basilica and downtown will be on a high hill about 1-2 miles away from the train station. You can either walk to the basilica, take a taxi or a local bus which stops near the train station.
If you choose to walk, start your walk near the train station on a street called Via Don Enzo Rampolla. At the end of this street you will see a pedestrian street going up the hill which will take you to the basilica. But because it is about 1-2 miles walk up the hill it is easier to take a taxi or a bus especially if you have a lot of luggage or if walking is difficult for you.
Before going to Loreto look at the mapto see where the train station, basilica and your hotel are located and print the directions.
There are a lot of restaurants around the basilica and in downtown Loreto. You can also buy your food at Coop supermarket (address: 111 Via Donato Bramante) which is less than a mile from the basilica.
There are about a dozen of hotels within a short walking distance from basilica. Loreto hotels can be booked on Booking.com, Hotels.com and similar websites. When booking your hotel check how far the hotel is from basilica and whether you will have to walk up and down the hill in order to reach the basilica and your hotel (you can find this info in hotel’s description, map or by reading hotel’s reviews). Some of the hotels are located a few miles from basilica with a limited or no bus access so it is better to book your hotel as close to the basilica as possible. I lived in a hotel called Hotel Centrale. It was very close to the basilica, comfortable and reasonably priced.
You can find a lot of useful and interesting information about the Sanctuary of the Holy House of Loreto here.
Marius Z., the author of the Heaven-Bound Pilgrim is writing about travel to holy places in Israel, Italy, Poland, France, Lithuania, Spain, Portugal and other countries. He writes about how to make pilgrimages inexpensive or even free while using credit card rewards points, frequent flyer miles, and hotel rewards points. History and spiritual message of each holy place is presented along with the information on where to eat, shop and stay while on pilgrimage.