Basilica della Santa Casa

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Basilica della Santa Casa
Basilica Pontificia della Santa Casa di Loreto.jpg
The façade edifice of the Basilica della Santa Casa.
LocationLoreto, Marche, Italy
DenominationCatholic Church
StatusPontifical minor basilica
StyleLate Gothic
Completed16th century
Episcopal areaTerritorial Prelature of Loreto

The Basilica della Santa Casa (English: Basilica of the Holy House) is a Marian shrine in Loreto, Italy. The basilica is known for enshrining the house in which the Blessed Virgin Mary is believed by some Catholics to have lived. Pious legends claim the same house was flown over by angelic beings from Nazareth to Tersatto (Trsat in Croatia), then to Recanati, before arriving at the current site.[1][2]

The basilica is also known for enshrining the Madonna and Child image of “Our Lady of Loreto” in relation to the relics held at the site.[3] Pope Benedict XV designated the religious image as patroness of air passengers and auspicious travel on 24 March 1920. Pope Pius XI granted a Canonical Coronation to the venerated image of made of Cedar of Lebanon on 5 September 1922, replacing the original Marian image consumed in fire on 23 February 1921.

The church building[edit]

The basilica is a Late Gothic structure continued by Giuliano da Maiano (1432–1490), Giuliano da Sangallo (1445–1516) and Donato Bramante (1444–1514).[4] It is 93 meters long, 60 meters wide, and its campanile is 75.6 meters high.

The façade of the church was erected under Sixtus V, who in 1586 fortified Loreto and gave it the privileges of a town; his colossal statue stands on the parvis, above the front steps, a third of the way to the left as one enters. Over the principal doorway there is a lifesize bronze statue of the Virgin and Child by Girolamo Lombardo; the three superb bronze doors executed at the latter end of the 16th century under the reign of Paul V (1605–1621) are also by Lombardo (1506-1590), his sons and his pupils, among them Tiburzio Vergelli (1551-1609), who also made the fine bronze font in the interior. The doors and hanging lamps are by the same artists.[4]

The richly decorated campanile (1750 to 1754), by Luigi Vanvitelli,[4] is of great height; the principal bell, presented by Leo X in 1516, weighs 11 tons.

The interior of the church has mosaics by Domenichino and Guido Reni and other works of art, including statues by Raffaello da Montelupo. In the sacristies on each side of the right transept are frescoes, on the right by Melozzo da Forlì, on the left by Luca Signorelli and in both there are some fine intarsias; the basilica as a whole is thus a collaborative work by generations of architects and artists.

The Santa Casa[edit]

Marble screen around the Holy House

The main attraction of Loreto is the Holy House itself (in Italian, the Santa Casa di Loreto). It has been a Catholic pilgrimage destination since at least the 14th century and a popular tourist destination as well.[1]

The "house"[edit]

The "house" itself consists of three stone walls.[5] It is a plain stone structure, with a door on the north side and a window on the west.[6] The size is 31 x 13 feet, i.e. 9 x 4 m[7] (or 9.52 m by 4.10 m and 4.30 m high.[8]

The "house" contains the "Altar of the Apostles", venerated as the authentic one built by St Peter and the Apostles.[6]

A niche contains a 33 inches high[9] black image of the Virgin and Child, a statue made of Lebanon cedar, richly adorned with jewels, placed above the altar.[7] A legend attributes the statue to Saint Luke, described in the Bible a physician, with a later tradition adding painting to his skills, and here given also the attribute of a sculptor; but its style suggests it was created in the 15th century.[7][10]

The "Black Madonna", known as Our Lady of Loreto, owes its dark colour to centuries of lamp smoke[dubious ] and is carved from Cedar of Lebanon. Much like the Holy House, it is associated with miracles.[11] The statue was commissioned after a fire in the Santa Casa in 1921 destroyed the original madonna, and it was granted a Canonical Coronation in 1922 by Pope Pius XI. In October 2019 Pope Francis restored the feast of Our Lady of Loreto, commemorated on December 10, to the universal Roman calendar.[5]

The sculpted marble screen[edit]

Around the house is a tall marble screen designed by Bramante[1] and executed under Popes Leo X, Clement VII and Paul III, by Andrea Sansovino, Girolamo Lombardo, Bandinelli, Guglielmo della Porta and others in the baroque style. The four sides represent the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Arrival of the Santa Casa at Loreto and the Nativity of the Virgin, respectively.[citation needed]

The Hall of the Treasury[edit]

The Hall of the Treasury dates from the beginning of the 17th century. It contains votive offerings, liturgical objects and vestments. The frescoes on the vaulted ceiling are exquisite examples of late Roman Mannerism and were created in 1605-1610 by Cristoforo Roncalli, known as Pomarancio.[12] The apse is decorated with 19th-century German frescoes.[citation needed]


Fresco by Melozzo da Forlì on the dome of the Sacristy of St Marc in the Basilica

In Nazareth[edit]

Late medieval religious traditions developed suggesting that this was the house in which the Holy Family (Mary, Joseph and Jesus) had lived while in Judea at the start of the first century AD, and which was miraculously flown over to Europe by four angels just before the final expulsion of the Christian Crusaders from the Holy Land, in order to protect it from Muslim soldiers.[4] According to this narrative, this is the Nazareth house in which Mary had been born and brought up, received the Annunciation, conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit, and had lived during the childhood of Christ.[5]

The tradition holds that after Jesus's Ascension, the house was converted into a church where the Apostles placed an altar, at which Saint Peter, considered by Catholics to be the first Pope, celebrated the first Eucharist after the Resurrection, the "Altar of the Apostles" inside the "house" being venerated as the authentic one.[6]

In 336, Empress Helena made a pilgrimage to Nazareth and allegedly directed that a basilica be erected over it, in which worship continued until the fall of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.[7] However, there is no firm historical evidence that Helena did in fact make such an intervention.[citation needed]

Translation to Dalmatia and Italy[edit]

The narrative further states that threatened with destruction by Muslim soldiers, the house was miraculously carried by angels through the air and initially deposited in 1291 on a hill at Tersatto (now Trsat, a suburb of Rijeka, Croatia), where an appearance of the Virgin and numerous miraculous cures attested to its sanctity. The miraculous translation of the house is said to have been confirmed by investigations made at Nazareth by messengers from the governor of Dalmatia. In 1294, angels again carried it across the Adriatic Sea to the woods near Recanati (although the reasoning is not clear as to why this happened); from these woods (Latin lauretum, Italian Colle dei Lauri or from the name of its proprietress Laureta) the chapel derived the name which it still retains (Lat. sacellum gloriosæ Virginis in Laureto). From this spot it was afterward removed to the present hill in 1295, with a slight adjustment being required to fix it in its current site. It is this house that gave rise to the title Our Lady of Loreto, sometimes applied to the Virgin; the miracle is occasionally represented in religious art wherein the house is borne by an angelic host.[citation needed]

A more detailed narrative mentions five transitions: in May 1291 from Nazareth to Tersatto, where it remained for over three years; from there to the other side of the Adriatic Sea, to Posatora (now part of Ancona) in the Marche region; after nine months to woods near Recanati in Marche; after eight months to a hill a mile away, Monte Prodo, near Loreto, where local counts petition the pope for ownership of the pilgrimage site; and finally, at the end of 1296, to the current position on the road then connecting Recanati to Porto Recanati, on public ground free of property claims.[6]

Pontifical support[edit]

Bulls in favour of the Shrine at Loreto were issued by Pope Sixtus IV in 1491 (although, since Sixtus IV died in 1484, either the date is erroneous, or else the pope should be Innocent VIII), and by Julius II in 1507, the last alluding to the translation of the house with some caution (ut pie creditur et fama est). While, like most miracles, the translation of the house is not a matter of faith for Catholics, nonetheless, in the late 17th century, Innocent XII appointed a missa cum officio proprio (a special mass) for the Feast of the Translation of the Holy House, which as late as the 20th century was enjoined in the Spanish Breviary as a greater double on December 10. This mass was recently restored by Pope Francis in 2019.[citation needed]

On 4 October 2012, Benedict XVI visited the Shrine to mark the 50th anniversary of John XXIII's visit. In his visit, Benedict formally entrusted the World Synod of Bishops and the Year of Faith to the Virgin of Loreto.[13][14][15]


An authority on Loreto has summed up the controversy concerning the miraculous flight of the Holy House by writing that it has attracted "the ridicule of one half of the world and the devotion of the other."[16]

Pro arguments[edit]

Analysis by Italian archaeologists and architects reached the conclusion that the Holy House[6]

  • is built of two types of limestone found in Nazareth, but not in Loreto and Marche[17] - as is the "Altar of the Apostles".
  • the mortar between the stones is typical for 1st century Palestine, but not for Italy[6]
  • the graffiti on the walls [1] are similar and contemporary to those discovered at the Grotto of the Annunciation in Nazareth[6]
  • the "house" has no foundations, stands directly on dusty ground not cleared in any way and containing snail shells, acorns and a dried walnut, and even stands atop a thorny bush[6]
  • the three-wall "house" fits exactly the measurements of the foundations excavated in front of the Grotto in Nazareth, and those of the "missing" wall fit the Grotto, therefore:[6]
  • the Holy House and the Grotto were originally part of the same dwelling.[6]
  • The Holy House is placed partly on a public road connecting Recanati with Porto Recanati, its apparition forcing the magistrates of Recanati to build a diversion of the road - this makes an intentional construction at such a location look improbable[6]


Translation by Angelos/Angeli family[edit]

In modern times, the Church traced the linguistic origins of the story to an aristocratic family called "Angelos", which were responsible for the transfer.[18] There are 16th-century bas-reliefs, which suggest that the Holy House was transported by sea.[19] In May 1900, papal physician Giuseppe Lapponi indicated that he had read in the Vatican archives documents suggesting that the members of the noble Byzantine family named Angelos had saved the stones of the House from Muslim devastation and transported them to Loreto.[20] In a second step, in late 1294, Nikephoros, ruler of Epirus from the Angelos family (in Italian: Niceforo Angeli), sent on the bricks to Italy as a wedding gift for his daughter who had married Prince Philip, the son of the King of Naples, in October that year.[19] In both Greek and Latin, the family name Angelos/Angeli means "angels".[21] The stones considered by researchers to be authentic are still visibly marked with Roman numerals, by scratching or with coal, which suggests that the three walls were carefully taken apart with the intention to faithfully reassemble them at another location, which actually happened.[22] The traditional date of the miraculous translation, 12th May 1291, is compatible with the historical dates - the port city of Acre, the Crusader capital, fell six days later, theoretically allowing for the shipment of the stones, once they had been carried by cart from Nazareth to the port of Acre.[22]

Archaeological excavations were carried out in 1962–65.[22] Among the numerous coins found underneath the building, there were two bearing the inscription "Gui Dux Atenes".[22] Meant is Guy II de la Roche, the Regent of Athens from 1280 to 1287.[22] His parents were the Frankish nobleman, William I, Duke of Athens, and Aromanian Greek princess Helena Angelina Komnene, the daughter of John Doukas, Prince of Thessaly, also known as John Angelos.[22] Through his mother, Guy was related to the Byzantine families of the Komnenos and Doukas, Emperors of Constantinople and Epirus.[22] Helena was Regent of the Duchy of Athens from the death of her husband in 1287 until her son's reaching the age of majority in 1294, covering the entire time span of the translation of the Holy House from Nazareth, to Epirus, to Recanati (Loreto).[22] The presence of the two coins are proof that the Angelos family, known in Italian as Angeli and later as De Angeli, supervised the event.[22] The law of Recanati categorically prohibited construction of any type of building on public roads, providing for its immediate demolition; only an intervention from a very high authority could have led to a suspension of the law, as it obviously happened in the case of the House.[22] Archaeological examination offered further proof for both the provenance of the stones from Nazareth, and for them being reassembled at Loreto, where several phases of support construction for the three-wall structure could be detected.[22]

Chronological issues and late origin[edit]

The documented history of the house can only be traced as far back as the close of the Crusades, around the 14th century. An early brief reference is made in the Italia Illustrata of Flavius Blondus (1392–1463), secretary to Popes Eugene IV, Nicholas V, Calixtus III and Pius II; it can be read in its entirety in the Redemptoris mundi Matris Ecclesiæ Lauretana historia, by a certain Teremannus, contained in the Opera Omnia (1576) of Baptista Mantuanus.

According to Herbert Thurston, in some respects, the Lauretan tradition is "beset with difficulties of the gravest kind", which were noted in a 1906 work on the subject. There are documents which indicate that a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin already existed at Loreto in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, that is, 180 years before the time of the supposed translation; and there is no mention of the supposed miraculous translation of the Holy House in 1472. Thurston notes that papal confirmations of the Loreto tradition are relatively late (the first Bull mentioning the translation is that of Julius II in 1507), but that they are at first very guarded in expression, for Julius introduces the clause "ut pie creditur et fama est", "as is piously believed and reported to be".[17]

Statue before legend theory[edit]

Thurston suggests that a miracle-working statue or picture of the Madonna was brought from Tersatto in Illyria (more precisely: Dalmatia) to Loreto by some pious Christians and was then confounded with the ancient rustic chapel in which it was harboured, the veneration formerly given to the statue afterwards passing to the building.[17]

Similar Walsingham legend[edit]

Finally, Thurston draws comparisons to the shrine at Walsingham, the principal English shrine of the Blessed Virgin, the legend of "Our Lady's house" (written down about 1465, and consequently earlier than the Loreto translation tradition) supposes that in the time of St. Edward the Confessor a chapel was built at Walsingham, which exactly reproduced the dimensions of the Holy House of Nazareth. When the carpenters could not complete it upon the site that had been chosen, it was transferred and erected by angels' hands at a spot two hundred feet away.[23]


The basilica holding the Santa Casa was built starting from 1468.[24]

In 1797, Napoleon's troops sacked the church.[24] The treasury was emptied, either looted by soldiers, or its contents requisitioned by the pope who needed money for the payments required by the Treaty of Tolentino, which he had signed with Napoleon.[24] Still, by 1821 the Black Madonna had been returned from the Louvre via Rome, and the treasury was again filled with valuable offerings.[24]

Veneration and feast of Our Lady of Loreto[edit]

The venerated Marian image of Our Lady of Loreto. The cedar wood was timbered from the Vatican Gardens[25]

Our Lady of Loreto is the title of the Virgin Mary with respect to the Holy House of Loreto. This name is also used for her statue displayed inside the Holy House.

The original statue, dating back to the 14th century, is an image of the Black Madonna with the Christ Child, both of whom are covered since the 16th century with a jeweled mantle or dalmatic.[26]

It was stolen by Napoleonic troops in 1797 and taken to Paris. It was returned with the Treaty of Tolentino and ended up in Rome, from where the image made an eight-day journey as a pilgrim Madonna, arriving in Loreto on 9 December 1801. During the absence of the original statue from the Holy House, a copy made of poplar wood was placed in the niche and remains the only copy to have been venerated in the Holy House. This copy is now enshrined at the Chiesa della Buona Morte in Cannara.[26]

In 1921, a raging fire broke out inside the Holy House which incinerated the sculpture. At the behest of Pope Pius XI, a new image similar to the original was immediately carved, using the wood of a cedar of Lebanon from the Vatican Gardens. It was modeled by Enrico Quattrini and executed and painted by Leopoldo Celani. In 1922, the statue was crowned in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican and solemnly transported to Loreto.[26]

There is a local tradition in the city of Treia that the original statue of Our Lady of Loreto was hidden and replaced with a copy before Napoleon's troops looted the basilica. When the copy was returned to Loreto, the exchange with the original statue never took place. Thus, it was the copy that was destroyed by fire. The original statue was hidden in a convent and then taken by Visitandine nuns to Treia, where it is enshrined at the Church of Santa Chiara.[26]

In the 1600s, a Mass and a Marian litany was approved. This "Litany of Loreto" is the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of the five litanies approved for public recitation by the Church. In 1920 Pope Benedict XV declared the Madonna of Loreto patron saint of air travellers and pilots.[11] The statue was granted a Canonical Coronation in 1922 by Pope Pius XI. In October 2019 Pope Francis restored the feast of Our Lady of Loreto, commemorated on December 10, to the universal Roman calendar.[5]

The Russian icon of the Mother of God "Addition of Mind" is based on the image of Our Lady of Loreto.[27]

In popular culture[edit]

Due to Our Lady of Loreto being the patroness of aviators, Charles Lindbergh took a Loreto statuette with him on his flight across the Atlantic, and Apollo 9 carried a Loreto medallion on its flight to the moon.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "The Sanctuary of Loreto", Agenzia Nazionale Turismo
  2. ^ Frederick Hartt, David G. Wilkins (2010) History of Italian Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture "Sixtus's nephews who appears in the group portrait, called Melozzo to Loreto, on the Adriatic coast, to decorate the sacristy of the basilica of the Santa Casa (fig. 14.26)."
  3. ^ Donald Posner - Annibale Carracci, A study in the reform of Italian painting, 1971. The painting was originally in the basilica of the Santa Casa in Loreto.
  4. ^ a b c d "Basilica della Santa Casa Review - Umbria and the Marches Italy - Sights". Fodor’s Travel. Retrieved Dec 15, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d Carol Glatz (Catholic News Service) (2019-10-31). "Pope adds feast of Our Lady of Loreto to universal calendar". Catholic News Herald (online edition). Charlotte, North Carolina. Retrieved 2020-01-19.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Ferreri, Enza, Loreto Can Only Be a Miracle, at Italy Travel Ideas blog, retrieved 9 April 2020
  7. ^ a b c d Olsen, Brad (2007). Sacred Places Europe: 108 Destinations. Sacred Places: 108 Destinations, Volume 1. CCC Publishing. pp. 235–236. ISBN 9781888729122. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  8. ^ "Basilica della Santa Casa di Loreto", Marian Library, University of Dayton
  9. ^ Cathedral of Loreto, at, retrieved 10 April 2020
  10. ^ Wright, Edward (1730). Some Observations Made in Travelling: Through France, Italy, &c. In the Years 1720, 1721, and 1722. By Edward Wright Esq (Digitized 2011 as part of the "Eighteenth century collections online" ed.). City of London: Tho. Ward and E. Wicksteed. p. 122. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  11. ^ a b "Donovan, Colin B., "Our Lady of Loreto", EWTN, August 2, 2005". Archived from the original on December 11, 2017. Retrieved December 10, 2017.
  12. ^ The Pilgrimage Town of Loreto: Loreto is a typical case of a shrine that created a town, at "Shrines of Europe", retrieved 10 April 2020
  13. ^ "Pope at Marian shrine entrusts Year of Faith, synod to Mary". Catholic News Service. 4 October 2012. Archived from the original on 5 December 2012. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  14. ^ "4 October 2012, Celebration of the Mass in Our Lady of Loreto Square | BENEDICT XVI". Archived from the original on Jan 2, 2013. Retrieved Dec 15, 2020.
  15. ^ "Prayer of the Holy Father during the visit to the Holy House of Loreto (September 1, 2007) | BENEDICT XVI". Archived from the original on Jan 2, 2013. Retrieved Dec 15, 2020.
  16. ^ a b Brockman, Norbert (2011). Encyclopedia of Sacred Places. Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 300. ISBN 9781598846546. Retrieved 10 April 2020. |volume= has extra text (help)
  17. ^ a b c Thurston, Herbert. "Santa Casa di Loreto." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 10 December 2017
  18. ^ Kerr, David (4 October 2012). "Pope entrusts Year of Faith, evangelization synod to Mary". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  19. ^ a b Father Johann Roten, S.M. (1941-). "Our Lady of Loreto and Aviation". International Marian Research Institute, University of Dayton, Ohio. Retrieved 2020-01-19.
  20. ^ La Santa Casa da Nazareth a Loreto, on the official website (in Italian). Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  21. ^ Did angels really carry the Holy House of Mary to Loreto, Italy?, by Courtney Mares, Catholic News Agency (CNA), 10 Dec 2018. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Father Paolo Berti O.F.M.Cap. "The Holy House of Loreto, in the light of archives and archaeology". Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  23. ^ "The Month", September 1901
  24. ^ a b c d Winters, Edward (2017). Dealing with the Visual: Art History, Aesthetics and Visual Culture. Routledge. ISBN 9781351160223. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  25. ^ "Loreto, Italie : visite de la cathédrale et la Sainte Maison de Marie à Lorette". Retrieved Dec 15, 2020.
  26. ^ a b c d "La-statua". Cammino Lauretano. Retrieved Dec 15, 2020.
  27. ^ "Blog about Spiritual Delusion (Prelest): Icon of the Mother of God "Addition of Mind"". Mar 28, 2012. Retrieved Dec 15, 2020.


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Santa Casa di Loreto". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°26′27″N 13°36′38″E / 43.44095°N 13.610578°E / 43.44095; 13.610578