by Enza Ferreri
People often don’t want to believe something against which they have an ideological preconception, an a priori position or bias.
Yet Sherlock Holmes, that master of logic created by Arthur Conan Doyle, famously said: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
When, in trying to solve a mystery, in understanding something not yet known, you have ruled out all the explanations that are logically or empirically impossible, the only explanation you are left with, no matter how much improbable, must be true,
The small town of Loreto, in the Marche region of eastern Italy, 4 miles from the Adriatic Coast, like so many other cities, town and villages in Italy, is on a delightful hill, surrounded by a vast countryside cultivated with olive groves.
On the top of the hill, dominating the town, is a tall, majestic basilica with dome and bell tower. In front of the church is a big, beautiful square adorned by an artistic fountain with bronze statues in the centre, lined by exquisite buildings and palaces with colonnades and loggias, among which the Apostolic Palace, designed by one of the world’s great architects, Donato Bramante, who designed St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and was tasked to work in Loreto by Pope Julius II.
Many major artists contributed to the Basilica of Loreto, a real masterpiece. The Gothic interior of the sanctuary is full of light and embellished by frescoes and paintings.
The place is imposing. The view from the hilltop is impressive, extending from the Adriatic Sea to the stunning seaside mountain Monte Conero and finally to the Umbrian–Marchean Apennine mountain range.
However, this church is like no other. This is the Holy House of Nazareth in the Basilica at Loreto, the most important Catholic relic in the world.
In this sanctuary is venerated the house in Nazareth where the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived and born, where she grew up and received the Annunciation of her future miraculous giving birth to Christ, to which she replied “Fiat!” (Let it be!), the same word uttered by God during the creation: that “Yes” from Mary was the supreme moment in history, the beginning of humanity’s Redemption.
In the same house the Virgin Mary conceived Jesus, and Jesus there lived with the Holy Family. After Jesus’ Resurrection, the house was transformed into a church where St Peter, the first Pope, and the Apostles placed an altar and where St Peter celebrated the First Eucharist after the Resurrection, as taught to the Disciples by Jesus in the Last Supper. Therefore, among these walls, the Divine Sacrifice was celebrated for the first time.
So it was the place where the Incarnation occurred twice: first when Christ became man in Mary’s womb and then when, during the First Eucharist, His body and blood were transubstantiated and the Real Presence was in the Eucharist. Even today, in the Holy House, the Altar of the Apostles is preserved, miraculously transported with it; in the place where the Blessed Mother had made Jesus descend to earth for the first time, Saint Peter pronounced the words of the Consecration, which are still repeated in every Mass.
As historian Roberto de Mattei says, Loreto is perhaps the greatest honour reserved by Providence to Italy, after the choice of Rome as the See of Peter.
Fast forward to early May 1291. The Holy Land has been invaded and conquered by the Turks, who, as Muslims, pillage and destroy every church and shrine.
On 10 May 1291 at dawn, two thousand kilometres away, on the hill of Trsat, today part of the city of Rijeka, on the Dalmatian Coast of present-day Croatia, some woodcutters are very surprised to find a little house, placed on the ground, which they had never seen before in that place, which is furthermore totally devoid of houses or huts.
Inside the house, opposite the entrance is a stone altar and above it, on the wall, a Greek cross with the figure of Christ and an inscription: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. On the altar is a wooden statue of the Madonna with the Child in her arms: Jesus’ right hand is raised to bless. Beyond the altar, a fireplace black with smoke, indicating a long use. Not far from this, a wardrobe built into the wall and table utensils. “It looks like a chapel that has been inhabited,” say the woodsmen.
To Trsat’s parish priest, Fr. Alessandro Giorgevich, appeared the Virgin Mary, who told him that this was her House in Nazareth, where she was born, the Announcement by the Archangel Gabriel took place and she lived with Jesus. Nicolò Frangipane, lord of the city, which was then under Venetian rule, wanted to ascertain the fact and sent a delegation of notables to Palestine. The notables, when they arrived in Nazareth, actually verified that the Holy House really did not exist in Nazareth anymore, fact which had greatly shocked the Turks.
Only the house’s foundations had remained, and they perfectly matched the measures of the perimeter of the three walls reaching Trsat. The delegation also found no difference in quality and nature between the stones left there and those that had arrived in Dalmatia. The witnesses wrote an official statement, signed and legally certified, testifying to all this, which was placed in Trsat’s public archives.
Even before Frangipane’s delegation got back, pilgrims returning from the Holy Land reported the house’s disappearance from Nazareth.
In Trsat, the Holy House remains for exactly three years and seven months, until on 10 December 1294 it disappears for the second time and is found on the other side of the Adriatic Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean, in Italy, in a locality called Posatora which is now part of Ancona, the main city of the Marche region.
Here it remains for nine months, then it’s brought to woods not far from the town of Recanati, still in the same region. Local shepherds see that morning a dazzling light come out of the clouds and, behind the light, the house.
However, the place was too close to the sea and therefore exposed to the dangers of Turkish raids; moreover here, as in Trsat before, pilgrims were prey to thieves and wrongdoers.
So, eight months later, the House of Nazareth one night disappears again and finds itself a mile away on a hill near present-day Loreto, Monte Prodo, in a field that belongs to two brothers, the Counts Stefano and Simone Rinaldi of Antici. They too wish to profit from the pilgrims’ offerings to the shrine, and to that end petition Pope Boniface VIII to obtain title of ownership.
But here, one night towards the end of 1296, the Santa Casa is moved for the fifth time to the road that goes from Recanati to Porto Recanati, that is to say outside of any private property, and like the other times it rests on the ground without any foundation.
The magistrates of Recanati are obliged to make a diversion of the road. And, as was done in Dalmatia, they too form a mission of 16 local nobles and notables to Galilee, who confirm the results of the first expedition: same size and stones of the building, and, as “the date of departure of the House [from Nazareth] for Illyria coincides with that of its arrival on the hill of Trsat “, so do the dates of departure and arrival coincide for the translation of the building to its final and current destination.
So, in all the Holy House was transported to five different places, between 1291 and 1296, before being laid to rest definitively on a public road, on the hill where it still stands today, under the dome of the present Basilica.
The news of the extraordinary prodigy spread rapidly throughout Europe, and Loreto soon became the first sanctuary of the West, where over the centuries saints, popes, sovereigns and people of every condition flocked to a devout pilgrimage.
The miracles, “wonderful and almost infinite”, work of Our Lady of Loreto, of which Pope Paul II was already speaking in the Super Aethereas Bull of 12 February 1470, have followed one another up until today, as the Annals of the Holy House, documentary periodical publication of the Sanctuary, testify. The story of the miraculous translation is narrated in detail by Pier Giorgio di Tolomei known as Teramano in a chronicle written in 1465, and has been described by many other writers, including Fr. Francesco Glavinich in his 1648 book Historia Tersattana (History of Trsat).
That the Holy House now in Loreto is the authentic House of Mary that once existed in Nazareth has never been questioned, except by those who don’t know the related research and studies in many fields – architecture, engineering, chemistry, history, archaeology – performed over the centuries: it is beyond doubt.
The facts support two realities:
- That the house now in Loreto is the same house that was previously in Nazareth
- That the House of Mary was miraculously translated from Nazareth through various locations and finally to Loreto.
These facts can be grouped into the following categories.
Architecture and Construction Style
Architects’ evidence and multiple scientific, historic and archaeological analyses attest to the constructive originality of the building and the origin of the House in the Middle East and in particular from the historical region of Palestine, according to the architectural style and the construction materials, both of which are foreign to Italy but typical of the Holy Land at the time.
“All kinds of research have been carried out” says Father Giuseppe Santarelli, Director of the Universal Congregation of the Holy House of Loreto “by renowned scholars, in Loreto as well as in Nazareth. All research has always shown that the house of Loreto is the one that once stood in Nazareth.
“Naturally the most important research has been done in modern times, particularly in Nazareth between 1955 and 1960 under the direction of Father Bellarmino Bagatti, one of the most illustrious archaeologists of the twentieth century, and in Loreto by architect Nerio Alfieri, professor of archaeology in Bologna.”
Professor Alfieri’s research has shown that this construction is full of absurd anomalies, in stark contrast with the constructions of Loreto’s area and also with the urban regulations in force there in the thirteenth century. The house has no foundation of its own and really stands on a road. It consists of only three walls, which, for a height of about three metres, are made of stones, and it is well known that in the Marche region there are no stone quarries and all the constructions at that time were made of bricks.
It is also anomalous that the only door, the original one, is in the middle of the long wall, and not in the short one, as it is in all the churches and chapels of the time, and that it is placed on the north exposed to strong and frequently inclement weather, against every local construction custom. It is still anomalous that the only window is oriented towards west and therefore open to a reduced lighting, here too against any building rule of the time.
But all these anomalies vanish, if we compare them with the results of archaeological research done in Nazareth. The house of Loreto has no foundation because its foundations have remained in Nazareth. It has only three walls because it was supported by a cave dug into the rock, with which it constituted a single dwelling block.
Exactly Identical Measurements
An extraordinary study carried out by the architect Nanni Monelli in 1982 has shown that, if you could bring back the house of Loreto to Nazareth, it would fit perfectly with what was found there. The measures of the Loreto house and also the thickness of the three walls perfectly correspond to the measurements of the foundations existing in Nazareth. So, the dimensions of the dwelling coincide with those of the “hole” that remained in Nazareth where the house was previously located.
Being the city of Nazareth built on the slope of a hill, its houses were communicating with the caves that opened on the hillside. The house of the Mother of God was no exception to this rule: it stood before a cave and constituted a single body with it. In Nazareth are now the cave and the foundations of the masonry house standing in front of the cave, while in Loreto are the three walls that actually constituted the authentic manmade structure of the House of the Annunciation, without foundations.
More simply: in Nazareth are only the foundations of the House of Mary without the House, in Loreto there is the House without the foundations.
Even in the past centuries many people raised the question of how they could venerate in two different places, in Nazareth and Loreto, the same house of the Virgin. In reality it is not two presumed houses, but two distinct parts of a single dwelling, namely “la grotta”, still revered in Nazareth, and “la Casa”, revered in Loreto.
Building Materials: Stones
Furthermore, the stones with which the walls were built are those typical of Palestine and so are the kinds of masonry used.
Architect Monelli has performed extensive research on the stones, and found that they are processed using a technique specific to those places, in particular proper of the Nabataean culture. Nabataeans were a Semitic people inhabiting northern Arabia and the southern part of the Levant, an area stretching from Judea to the Sinai. The Nabataeans, whose capital was the ancient city of Petra, had developed a distinctive method of stone work by means of a burin, and another consisting in making close and shallow sections by a chisel point. These techniques are absolutely unknown in Italy and specifically in the Marche region.
The material of the walls, of considerable thickness (37.5 cm), was repeatedly verified, and after the middle of the last century, as mentioned above, carefully examined through chemical analyses carried out in Rome. These are two types of limestone, one hard, the other soft, of a colour that is not found in Italy while it is common in Palestine and in particular in Nazareth. For such reason this was followed up by accurate comparisons made directly in Palestine on small samples coming from Loreto, and everey time an astonishing identity was found.
If we consult the recent literature on the House of Loreto there is an almost perfect unanimity in affirming that the original stones certainly come from Nazareth, even though some cling to the theory, which, as we’ll shortly see, doesn’t hold water, that they would have been transported by men.
It is not clear how the mysterious “transporters” were able to rebuild the Santa Casa in contrast with all the contemporary local norms regulating construction and in contrast even with the very laws of physics. It is in fact well known that the Santa Casa has no foundations, literally “laid” on the ground. The perfect construction of the walls in horizontal layers joined by mortar of excellent quality would require a foundation that ensures its solid support. On the contrary, not only are the foundations missing, but also any preparation of the underlying soil, which instead presents itself as dissolved and dusty.
Building Materials: Mortar
The chemical analysis of the mortar which holds the stones of the house together has ascertained that the mortar is uniform in all points and is made of hydrated calcium sulfate mixed with charcoal powder according to a technique of the age used in Palestine 2,000 years ago, but unknown in Italy.
The hypothesis of a human dismantling and transportation in late 13th century of the single blocks of the house from Nazareth followed by their reconstruction in Italy has been debunked for all intents and purposes by the latest historical research (as will be explained in an upcoming article), but, even ardently wanting to believe it with no historical documentation or evidence to support it, we are confronted with this paradox. The people who should have reassembled the house in Italy would not have been able to recognise, let alone produce and use, mortar with those particular chemical characteristics.
The House Has No Foundations
The walls lay above the surface layer of the ground and partly above a road surface. In some parts, even, the Holy House does not touch the ground. How is it possible that a building can be maintained in its entirety for seven centuries without foundations and without supports? The architects who worked in Loreto say that, among many, this is the most impressive miracle.
The final placement then on a public road, in Loreto, where it is still today, is equally humanly impossible, as all the archaeologists and architects who over the centuries have examined the subsoil of the Santa Casa and the public road on which it rests have unanimously concurred.
For example, the authoritative and renowned architect Giuseppe Sacconi (1854-1905) declared to have found that “the Santa Casa stands, part resting on the end of an ancient road and part suspended above the adjacent ditch”. He added that, even setting aside historical or religious questions but purely on technical and scientific grounds, it was necessary to admit that the Holy House could not have been built, as it is, in the place where it is located (Annals of the Holy House, 1925, n.1).
Another distinguished architect, Federico Mannucci (1848-1935) who, after a fire broke out in 1921 and the floor had to be replaced, was commissioned by Pope Benedict XV to examine the foundations of the Holy House, categorically asserted in his 1923 written report that “it is absurd even to think“ that the building may have been transported “by mechanical means” (F. Mannucci, Annals of the Holy House, 1923, 9-11).
He subsequently disclosed:
“It is astonishing and extraordinary that the building of the Holy House, although with no foundation, located on a terrain of no firmness as well as dissolved and overloaded, even partially, by the weight of the archway built in place of the roof, remains unaltered, without the slightest subsidence and slightest damage to the walls ” (F. Mannucci, Annals of the Holy House, 1932, 290).
In summary, architect Mannucci drew these conclusions: the walls of the Santa Casa di Loreto are formed with stones from Palestine, cemented with mortar used there; it is absurd to think only of a mechanical transport; the construction of the Holy House in the place where it is located is opposed to all the constructive rules and the very laws of physics. Therefore, if the entire Holy House of Nazareth cannot have been transported by men, it could not have been transported otherwise than “miraculously”, by the work of Divine Omnipotence, through “angelic ministry”, as always handed down by Tradition and approved as true by all the Supreme Pontiffs, for 700 years, from the origins until today.
The fact that the building is without foundations is inexplicable if it were of natural origins.
Documents from 1531, 1672 and 1751 attest that, every time the ground slabs or the outside covering had to be removed due to maintenance work, the walls were always shown to be laid on the bare earth, causing enormous surprise. Recent archaeological excavations on site have confirmed yet again this fact.
On those occasions and during excavations, they found and collected small stones identical to those of the road, residues of acorns, snail shells, a dried walnut, dusty earth: all that was present at the time of impact.
Another detail that also goes to show that the house’s three walls landed, so to speak, on the road, rather than being reconstructed there, is the singularity of a thorny bush that was on the edge of the road at the time of impact and remained trapped there.
It seems obvious that, however simple and unrefined the 13th-century masons might have been, they would not have placed the stones transported from Nazareth firstly on the road surface, and secondly without at least cleaning the ground and tearing off the thorny bush.
The Altar of the Apostles
According to an archaeological study conducted by architect Monelli and Father Santarelli, the stones found in the Cave of the Annunciation in Nazareth have the same origin as the stones of the Altar of the Apostles which is inside the Holy House in Loreto.
This study of the Altar of the Holy Apostles is important because, in addition to offering further evidence for the authenticity of the House of Loreto as Mary’s House in Nazareth, it also provides an even more striking proof of the miraculous nature of the translation of the House of Nazareth. In fact, Tradition has always attested that, between 1291 and 1296, not only the three Walls of the Holy House of Nazareth were transported miraculously intact, through angelic ministry, to various places, but also, together with them but distinguished from them, was the Altar of the Apostles in the same way miraculously transported to the same places. The miracle was “twofold”.
Paintings and Graffiti on the Walls
Other pieces of evidence of the land of origin come from the paintings and graffiti still visible on the walls of the House.
Since the Edict of Milan, with which in 313 AD Emperor Constantine permanently established religious toleration for Christianity within the Roman Empire, many pilgrims visited the House of Nazareth in the Holy Land. The paintings and graffiti on the walls of the House in Loreto depict saints of the Eastern Church and give other indications of those visits.
After he cleaning of the walls, Santarelli made a specific study on the graffiti still legible, depicting Christian religious symbols of the second and third centuries similar to those that can be read on the rocky walls of the Cave of the Annunciation in Nazareth. He says:
“I have identified about fifty, and they are signs relating to the Christian Jews of the Holy Land and in particular to those found in Nazareth.”
These graffiti cannot have reached Loreto dispersed within loose stone, but only on intact and compact walls.
Physical Impossibility of Human Transportation
For the thesis of material transport there is absolutely no documentation.
It seems incredible that, without any testimony in this regard, a trip by land and by sea of a cargo totally weighing 100-200 tons through such different regions and populations could have been organised, without leaving even the slightest historical memory of the event.
Indeed, if such an incredible feat had really been accomplished, there would be signs of it in the form of witness accounts, historians’ reports and chronicles, and the like. There would be documents, real and not fake as those that have been produced, attesting to it.
The complete obliteration from human memory of such a prodigy accomplished entirely by men would require, to believe in it, considerably more faith, of the blind kind, than believing what our eyes, ears and reason support on the basis of all the tremendous amount of accumulated evidence.
But, when we judge it not from a historical but a physical point of view, we find even more insurmountable counterevidence.
Even today, with the most advanced technologies, the whole removal of a house, even of the size of that of Loreto, and its transport with human means, either disassembled or whole, would present enormous difficulties, and it’s all the more impossible for the 1200s, the period in which it took place.
The hypothesis of breaking up the walls of the House into individual blocks of stone carried out in Nazareth and reassembling them first in Dalmatia and then repeatedly on the Italian Adriatic coast, after two thousand kilometres of wandering, clashes with all the facts reported above, not least the simultaneousness of the dates of departure and arrival.
There is legally certified eyewitness evidence of the time, both in the five places where the house appeared and in Nazareth from where it inexplicably disappeared overnight.
Canonical Procedures of Verification
Furthermore, there have been over the course of seven centuries strict canonical ecclesiastical procedures of verification with every kind of scientific analysis and historical and archaeological evaluation of the event of the miraculous translation, and severely controlled through testimonies and endless documents.
There have been assessments of the local Bishops of the time (of Fiume, Ancona, Recanati, Macerata, Naples), who issued canonical (i.e. according to the Church’s legal authority) pronouncements of truthfulness.
Supreme Pontiffs, committing their Supreme Apostolic Authority, have uninterruptedly, since the origins, approved the historical veracity of the miraculous translations of the Holy House: from Nicolò IV (1292) to John Paul II (2005).
Contrary to popular misconceptions, the Church has no interest in propagating false beliefs in miracles. Every report of prodigy, in every time and place, is thoroughly investigated by the ecclesiastic authorities. Then one of three things may happen: it is dismissed as unsupported (in many more cases than the public imagines), or it is considered uncertain or, and only when overwhelming evidence in its support is found, it is recognised as truthful.
Historical Falsity of Human Translation
Attempts to introduce an explanation of translation by human means have been discredited and debunked by historical research.
It’s not true, as some people say, that there is no evidence for the existence of God, the true God of the Christian Trinity. There is plenty of evidence, except that the people who say that don’t want to look at the evidence and face its consequences.
When people a priori rule out supernatural explanations of phenomena that cannot be explained naturally, they act on a prejudice and don’t follow the evidence wherever it leads.
Science does not exclude the supernatural. Scientists who say this don’t speak in their capacity as scientists but as ideologues.
Science is not characterised by its object (physical or non˗physical, natural or supernatural), but by its method.
This method has been defined in several ways by philosophers and historians of science but on one thing they all agree: scientific method, in analogy with a police criminal investigation, must follow evidence wherever it leads, even if it leads to something you don’t like or even if doing so will force you to re˗examine and even reverse your pet theories and ideological or personal preconceptions.
The materialist, naturalist bias that science (as a human institution in a specific historic time, not as a correct method of investigation) currently has is not part of science itself.
Science, by definition, must not have a bias of any kind, materialist or not.
The current ideological bias of many (not all) scientists in favour of materialist or natural explanations and against spiritual or supernatural ones is not only a historical accident – since science was actually founded by Christians, which explains why it developed in the West and the West only, later imitated elsewhere – but is also an extremely pernicious development, which enormously obstacles its progress.
At what conclusion would Sherlock Holmes arrive? Well, his author Arthur Conan Doyle was a nonbeliever (in Christianity, although he put his faith in assorted “well-founded” and “rational” creeds like spiritualism, proving GK Chesterton right when he said that when man ceases to believe in God he starts believing in anything) and portrayed his most celebrated character in a similar way.
So, the answer to our question depends on whether Holmes would follow the method of empiric-logical deduction he had so well formulated to its final consequences or whether he would prefer to follow his prejudices.
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By Parsifall [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons.