Pilgrimage to Loreto
For hundreds of years, Catholic pilgrims have made the journey to the small city of Loreto, nestled in the beautiful Marche countryside, to worship at the holy shrine of the Holy House of the Virgin Mary (La Santa Casa della Vergine Maria). Nowadays about four million faithful come here each year, and it is regarded as one of the major pilgrimage sites in the Catholic world. Since its construction in 1294 it has been visited by more than 200 saints and beatified people, and numerous Popes.
Pope John Paul II described it as ‘the true Marian heart of Christianity’.
The experience for the pilgrim is a deeply moving one. Many miracles are said to have happened here, and people come in humility to ask the blessed Virgin for help or healing.
The story has it that the three stone walls which constitute the Holy shrine arrived here by ship from Nazareth in 1294.
They were dismantled and transported by crusaders expelled from Palestine in 1291. There is a wealth of documentary and archaeological evidence to show that the walls were indeed transported by ship at this time, under the instruction of the Angeli family.
This family ruled over Epirus, a region of south-eastern Europe between the Pindus mountains and the Ionian Sea in an area now divided between Greece and Albania.
The original house would have consisted of the three stone walls and a rock cavern, which is also visited by millions of pilgrims in Nazareth, and it is believed to have been the home of Jesus as a child, and the place where Mary received the Annunciation.
One recently discovered document, dated 1294, states that Nicefero Angeli offered the Prince of Taranto a dowry for marriage to his daughter, Ithamar, of treasures that included ‘stones taken from the Home of Our Lady the Virgin Mother of God’.
In the mid 15th century it was decided to build a large sanctuary around these humble stone walls in order to protect them for the benefit of future pilgrims. This is the impressive Basilica which one can now see standing on the top of the hill, silhouetted against the sky, from a few kilometres away.
Loreto also has other attractions for the tourist or pilgrim, having many artistic and architectural treasures to offer.
It is also close to some lovely beaches, and the surrounding countryside is charming.