Photo taken by your's truly as I sat and prayed in the Holy House of Loretto.
For years I have been talking with a priest friend about making a pilgrimage to Italy together. We would talk about it all the time, but that’s where it stopped. Until this past October. I was visiting him, and one night, after a long day of work in his parish, we were eating delicious food and drinking delicious drink, and once again we began talking about this trip we would one day take. Then one of us, I honestly can’t remember who, said something along the lines of “You know, we should actually do this.” And right then and there we got out our calendars and found some dates that would work, we booked our flights. It was finally going to happen.
As we planned the trip there were many places we wanted to go, and for the most part we went to them. I have a devotion to St. Benedict, so Subiaco, Monte Cassino, and Norcia were on the itinerary. My friend suggested we go to Loretto, to pray in the Holy House. I had heard of the Holy House, and frankly, I was skeptical. The legend is that it was miraculously transported from Nazareth by angels to the town of Loretto in Italy. There was a less miraculous version of the story where a family named with the surname of DeAngelis takes the Holy House apart brick by brick in Nazareth, then transporting it to Loretto, and there reconstructing it. Neither story really piqued my interest. It was a nice story, but why would I drive all the way across Italy to Loretto to see a house that might, or might not, be the House in which the Angel Gabriel visited Our Lady and where the Word was made flesh?
My friend said, “You HAVE to go and pray there!” Other people who had been their said the same thing. There seemed to be unanimity among those who had been there that it was a “must see.” Some said it was “one of the holiest places they had ever been to.” Others said that “after you pray there you will KNOW that it is the real deal.” I was still a bit skeptical but I decided to go, and am I extremely grateful that I did.
As we approached Loretto you could see the basilica way up on top of the hill on which the city is built. Compared to St. Peter’s it was nothing special. It was beautiful to be sure, but nothing like the grand Basilicas of Europe. As we parked and walked toward the Basilica, it was raining, and there weren’t many people around at all. We entered the Basilica and entered the Holy House. The House is covered with marble on the outside, but on the inside, it’s just ancient brick. The Basilica was built around the Holy House, so right in the middle of the Basilica stands the Holy House.
In entering the Holy House the thing that was immediately apparent was that it was a very holy place. There was a silence unlike I have ever experienced there. The place was heavy with silence, and heavy with holiness. There were no chairs or pews, except for one chair reserved for little old ladies. If you wanted to stay and pray you either stood, knelt, or sat on the floor. Which is what I did.
I sat on the floor, with my back against the wall. I was right beneath the angel’s window, called such because it is the window through which the Archangel Gabriel entered the house to announce to Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus. Directly in front of me was the Altar of the Apostles. It’s called the Altar of the Apostles because it is believed that the Apostles themselves offered Mass on the Altar. Above the Altar is the miraculous image of our Lady holding the Child Jesus.
As I sat there and prayed, the spirit of silence and prayer settled upon me. The prayer was amazing! In all my travels I have never, ever experienced a sense of holiness like I did in that place. I could feel the presence of Our Lady. She was there.
The time flew. In what seemed like five minutes, I had already prayed for an hour, which was the amount of time we had pre-arranged. I left the Holy House, and said to my priest-friend that “I could pray here all day.” And that was not an understatement. It’s one of those places where the holiness and prayerfulness of the place can pull you into prayer and keep you there without you even knowing it. I wandered around a bit looking at the Basilica, which is filled with stunning artwork, but I couldn’t stay away from the Holy House. It wasn’t long before I was back in there. When it was time to leave, it was hard. I wanted to stay there all day, and all night.
So, was the Holy House carried there by angels? Was it brought there by a pious family? I don’t know. What I do know is that it IS, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the home of Mary and Joseph and Jesus. What I do know is that it is one of the holiest places in the world. What I do know is that I would go back there in a heartbeat, and when I do, I’ll plan a whole day to just sit and pray.
Today, on the Solemnity of the Annunciation I pray that the spirit of the Holy House, and the graces given me there will be revived and renewed within me.
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If you want to read a bit on the Holy House, here are a few itemsI’d recommend. The first is a book written from the perspective of the history and archeology of the Holy House (which, for the record seem to prove that it more than likely is the actually Holy House of Nazareth). The second is a DVD, that is fairly well done, if a bit dated - not in information, but in that it was clearly made a number of years ago. Finally, if you want something more spiritual and pious, you might check out the book by Bob and Penny Lord. Just click on the links if you want to see more.