Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 13.djvu/511

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SANTA CASA


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SANTA CASA


Ever since that time, both the extraordinary nature of the event having called forth the admiring wonder of the neighbouring people and the fame of tlie mira- olcs wrought in this sanctuary having sjM-cad far and wide, this Holy House, whose walls do not rest, on any foundation and yet remain solid and uninjured after eo many centuries, has been held in reverence by all nations." That the traditions thus boldly pro- claimed to the world have been fully sanctioned by the Holy See cannot for a moment remain in doubt. More than forty-seven popes have in various waj^s rendered honour to the shrine, and an immense num- ber of Bulls and Briefs proclaim without qualification the identity of the Santa Casa di Loreto with the Holy House of Nazareth. As lately as 1894 Leo XHI, in a Brief conceding various spiritual favours for the sixth centenary of the translation of the Santa Casa to Loreto, summed up its history in these words: "The happy House of Nazareth is justly regarded and honoured as one of the most sacred monuments of the Christian Faith : and this is made clear by the many diplomas and acts, gifts and jirivileges accorded by Our predecessors. No sooner was it, as the annals of the Church bear witness, nuraculously translated to Italy and exposed to the veneration of the faithful on the hills of Loreto than it drew to itself the fer- vent devotion and pious asjjiration of all, and as the ages rolled on, it maintained this devotion ever ar- dent. " If, then, we would sum up the arguments which sustain the popular belief in this miraculous transference of the Holy House from Palestine to Italy by the hands of angels, we may enumerate the following points: (1) The reiterated approval of the tradition by many different popes from Julius II in 1511 down to the present d:iy. This approval was emphasized liturgically by an insertion in the Roman Martyrologium in Kiti!) and the concession of a proper Office and Mass in 1()99, and it has been ratified by the deep veneration paid to the shrine by such holy men as St. Charles BoiTomeo, St. Francis de Sales, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and many other servants of God. (2) Loreto has been for cen- turies the scene of numerous miraculous cures. Even the sceptical Montaigne in 15S2 professed himself a believer in the reality of these (Waters, "Journal of Montaigne's Travels", II, 197-207). (3) The stone of which the original walls of the Santa Casa are built and the mortar used in their construction are not such as are known in the neighbourhood of Loreto. But both stone and mortar are, it is alleged, chemically identical with the materials most commonly found in Nazareth. (4) The Santa Casa does not rest and has never rested upon foundations sunk into the earth where it now stands. The point was formally investi- gated in 1751 under Benedict XIV. What was then found is therefore fully in accord with the tradition of a building transferred bodily from some more primi- tive site.

It must be acknowledged, however, that recent historical criticism has shown that in other directions the Laurctan tradition is beset with difficulties of the gravest kind. These have been skilfully presented in the much-discussed work of Canon Chevalier, "Notre Dame de Lorette" (Paris, 1906). It is pos- sible that the author lias in some directions pressed his evidence too far and has perhaps overstated his case, but despite the efforts of such WTiters as Esch- bach, Faloci-Pulignani, Thomas, andKresser, the sub- stance of his argument remains intact and has aa yet found no adequate reply. The general conten- tion of the work may be summarized under five heads: (1) From the accounts left by pilgrims and others it appears that before the time of the first translation (1291) there was no little cottage venerated at Naza- reth which could correspond in any satisfactory way with the present Santa Casa at Loreto. So far as there was question at all in Nazareth of the abode in


which the Blessed Virgin had lived, what was pointed out to pilgrims was a sort of natural cavern in the rock. (2) Oriental chnmicles and similar accounts of pilgrims are absolutely silent as to any change which took place in 1291. There is no word of the disap- pearance at Nazareth of a shrine formerly held in veneration there. It is not until the sixteenth cen- tury that we find among Orientals any hint of a con- sciousness of their loss and then the idea was sug- gested from the West. (3) There are charters and other contemporary documents which prove that a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin already ex- isted at Loreto in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, that is to say, before the epoch of the supposed trans- lation. (4) When we eliminate certain documents commonly appealed to as early testimonies to the tra- dition, but demonstrably spurious, we find that no writer can be shown to have heard of the miraculous translation of the Holy House before 1472, i. e., 180 years after the event is supposed to have taken place. The shrine and church of Loreto are indeed often mentioned; the church is sjxid by Paul II in 1464 to have been miraculously founded, and it is further im- plied that th(> statue or image of the Blessed Virgin was brought there by angels, but all this differs widely from details of the later accounts. (5) If the papal confirmations of the Loreto tradition are more closely scrutinized it will be perceived that not only are they relatively late (the first Bull mentioning the transla- tion 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", while they are obviously dependent upon the extravagant leaflet compiled about 1472 by Teramano.

It is clearly impossible to review here at any length the discussions to which Canon Chevalier's book has given rise. As a glance at the appended bibliography will show, the balance of recent Catholic opinion, as represented by the more learned Catholic periodicals, is strongly in his favour. The weight of such argu- ments as those drawn from the nature of the stone or brick (for even on this point there is no agreement) and the absence of foundations, is hard to estimate. As regards the date at which the translation tradition makes its appearance, much stress has recently been laid by its defenders upon a fresco at Gubbio repre- senting angels carrying a little house, which is as- signed by them to about the year 1350 (see Faloci- Pulignani, "La s. Casa di Loreto secondo un affresco di Gubbio", Rome, 1907). Also there are appar- ently other representations of the same kind for which an early date is claimed (see Monti in "La Scuola Cattolica", Nov. and Dec, 1910). But it is by no means safe to assume that every picture of angels carrying a house must refer to Loreto, while the as- signing of dates to such frescoes from internal evi- dence is one of extreme difficulty. With regard to the papal pronouncements, it is to be remembered that in such decrees which have nothing to do with faith or morals or even with historical facts which can in any way be called dogmatic, theologians have always recognized that there is no intention on the part of the Holy See of defining a truth, or even of placing it outside the sphere of scientific; criticism so long as that critici.sm is respectful and takes due re- gard of place and season. On the other hand, even if the Loreto tradition be rejected, there is no reason to doubt that the simple faith of those who in all con- fidence have sought help at this shrine of the Mother of God may often have been rewarded, even miracu- lously. Further it is quite unnecessary to suppose that any deliberate fraud has found a place in the evo- lution of this history. There is much to suggest that a sufficient explanation is afforded by the hypothesis that a miracle-working statue or picture of the Ma- donna was brought from Tersato in Illyria to Loreto by some pious Christians and was then confounded