The Holy House of Loreto, the house in which Our Blessed Mother was born, and in which the Annunciation occurred, is the first shrine of international renown dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, and has been a true Marian center of Christianity for several centuries.
In its original form, the Holy House had only three walls because the eastern side, where the altar now stands, opened onto a Grotto. The three original walls, two of which can be seen on the sides of the chapel in the picture, rise to a height of three meters. The masonry above, made of local bricks, was added later including the vault (in 1536), to make the place more suitable for worship.
The Popes have always held the Shrine of Loreto in special esteem, taking it directly under their authority because of the "divine mysteries which took place there."
On October 4, 1962, Pope John XXIII announced: "This is the lesson that comes from Nazareth: holy families, blessed love and homely virtue, blossom from the warmth of ardent hearts that are full of generosity and good will."
The same theme was also taken up by Pope John Paul II when he went on a pilgrimage to Loreto on September 8, 1979. He said, amongst other things: "The House of the Holy Family! It was the first temple, the first church, on which the Mother of God shed her light through her motherhood. She irradiated it with the light which comes from the great mystery of the Incarnation; from the mystery of her Son."
Pope John Paul II also expressed the hope that all the children belonging to the human family may have a roof over the heads and be given a home. The Holy Family of Nazareth is a model and the guardian of all Christian families. This is why the faithful invoke the Virgin of Loreto, Patroness of the family and the home.
Shown at left is an image of Our Lady of Loreto, shown clad in the traditional decorative robe so distinctive of the Virgin image of Loreto. The dark color of the image represents the original image of Our Lady of Loreto, which was carved from wood and subsequently darkened over centuries of being exposed to the soot from the oil lamps which burn in the chapel. The original statue was destroyed in a fire, and the friars determined that it would most proper that the replacement statue would reflect the darkened condition of the original prior to its destruction in the fire.
The picture on the left is that of the Shrine Chapel. You will notice two large oil lamps, one on each side of the Chapel. These are two of the seven oil lamps which burn continuously in the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto. Each day the lamps are filled with special oil which will burn through the time the Chapel is open to pilgrims. Prior to filling the lamps each day, what oil remains in the lamps is poured into small bottles. For centuries this oil, blessed by both a priest with a sacred blessing, and by Our Lady as it burns in her Shrine, has long been valued by pilgrims to the Shrine as an oil of blessing and healing.-
With the Statues of Our Lady of Loreto were also given the privilege to offer some of the bottles of oil from the Shrine to those who would like to avail themselves of its use. As with the statues, the oil is duly blessed by a priest and is available only on a donation basis.