The Miraculous Flying House of Loreto

Spreading Catholicism in the Early Modern World

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Karin Vélez
  • Princeton, NJ: 
    Princeton University Press
    , December
     312 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


When taking an approach to studying the expansion of Roman Catholicism, often the focus is solely based on theology. It is important when looking into a group of people of any religion to take into consideration their stories, which in turn become part of the history of religious followers. Because Karin Vélez takes such a historic approach, The Miraculous Flying House of Loreto gives a more complete picture regarding the growth of the Roman Catholicism since the early modern period.  

The author stresses the significance of relics and reliquaries early in her book and sets the stage for understanding the importance of the miracle of the flying house of Loreto. This book takes an in-depth approach, including both historical and anthropological methodologies. For those unfamiliar with the flying house of Loreto: stories about the house began to circulate among people beginning in the 13th century. The holy house of Loreto was lifted by angels off its foundation in Nazareth and carried to Italy, where it fell from the sky. The significance of this house for Roman Catholics is that it was the home of the Virgin Mary, and where the Angel Gabriel appeared to her to announce that she was pregnant.

The contributions of the Jesuits, as both spiritual pilgrims and missionaries, are also highlighted in this book. The author notes that beginning in the mid-1500s, the Jesuits made frequent trips between Rome and Loreto. During these pilgrimages, the Jesuits imitated the journey of their founder, Ignatius of Loyola, in order to deepen their bond with the divine. As a missionary religious order, the Jesuits traveled to different parts of the world to convert people to the Roman Catholic faith, including the Huron people of Quebec. Here the missionaries established the Saint-Marie mission, and a chapel was established there that was a replica of the House of Loreto.

Because of the movement of the Jesuit missionaries and lay Roman Catholics, the mythohistory of this flying house moved with the people, the author writes. In addition to the Catholic evangelization of the Jesuits, there were also women named Mary, who were enthralled with the idea of Marian devotion, who did their part to teach people about the Catholic faith.

Vélez also established the multiple facets of the growth of Roman Catholicism in the world. She primarily examines how essential the devotion to the Virgin Mary was to the development of the denomination. There was also a connectedness of Catholics across the globe because of the construction of various replica holy houses of Loreto and also the carrying of icons of Mary to different locations. The people would also draw upon the use of the name Loreto.

Vélez gives credit in spreading the Roman Catholic faith to the Slavic immigrants to Italy. Fleeing to Italy to escape violence, they took their devotion to Mary with them. While in Italy, the immigrants visited Marian shrines, which provided solace.

Also established in the book is how myths play into the history of the people. In this sense, we have a history of the Roman Catholics. While spread throughout many lands, they continued to share their sacred stories.

Human encounters of people need to be taken into consideration regarding the building up of the history of religious people, which is an accomplishment of this book. Because of the sharing of their stories, the Roman Catholics were unified. The images of Mary, specifically the Madonna of Loreto, was just one example in this book of a unifying image for the people.

The book is an excellent combination of both Jesuit history, including their missionary work around the world as they gained converts from North America to South America, and Marian history. It also brings up a question: Could the Jesuit efforts have survived without the historic actions of the lay Roman Catholic people? What does become evident from reading Vélez’s book is that without the efforts of historians, the narratives of the people, which centered on the myth of the flying house, would not have been able to been established.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Lisa Covington is an Adjunct of the Department of Religion at Ashland University, Ashland, Ohio.

Date of Review: 
May 29, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Karin Vélez is Associate Professor of History at Macalester College.


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