The Catholic Church proposes a great number of dead people for worship (dulia) or, as just about any Catholic apologist will argue, veneration. Even objects used or touched by the demigods the Roman church calls saints are objects of veneration. Wonderful powers of healing are associated with many of these objects, such as splinters of wood claimed to be from the cross upon which Christ died. Of course, as the Catholic champion will quickly inform, the healing comes from God through faith. Think about that. If the healing comes from God, why is it necessary to pray before or be touched by a splinter of wood? Sounds like witchcraft to me.
The Catholic Church has a thing about body parts. Human remains figure prominently in the doctrine and practice of the RCC. Church officials pass out bits and pieces of dead 'saints' to churches in order that they might be worshipped (dulia) by Catholic faithful. Some churches are fortunate (?) to have large body parts, perhaps even entire bodies available for veneration and to help channel prayers.
Catholic faithful kneel in prayer before body parts, not just of their saints, but even of the Man Jesus. At the beginning of the 20th century, the prepuce of Baby Jesus – miraculously saved and multiplied – was available for worship in 18 different churches in Europe.
Until the new Missae Romanae was promulgated, it was a requirement that at least one 1st class relic be installed in every Catholic altar. Think about it. Every time a Catholic priest celebrated Mass, he did it on the bones of a dead Catholic saint. Seems ghoulish, doesn't it? The ceremonies involved in consecrating a new altar in a new church certainly appear pagan to me. I wrote an article on that process a while back. I'll post it again here in a day or two.
Catholics worship (dulia) interesting things other than body parts of dead people. There is, for example, the Spear of Longinus, claimed to be the one used to pierce Christ's side as He hung on the cross. According to Catholic fantasy, those who hold the spear will not lose in battle. This spear is now in one of the pillars of the great altar at St. Peter's in Rome, in the Austrian National Museum in Vienna, and was also claimed to be kept in Britain's Alconbury Abbey, along with a vial of the Virgin Mary's breast milk. Then there's stuff that supposedly belonged to Ireland's St. Brigid, who supposedly died around 525. Brigid's tunic, or so it is claimed, is on display at Saint Donatian's in Bruges, Belgium; and a relic of her jewel-encrusted silver and brass shoe is in Dublin's National Museum.
As an example of the curious things Catholics do with body parts, there's the tale of three knights who set out for the Holy Land in 1283. They took with them the head of St. Brigid, or so they believed. Whatever they expected the grisly trophy to do for them, it apparently didn't work, since all three died in Portugal. Folks in the town of Lumier, Portugal built a special chapel in which the head is enshrined. What makes this story particularly interesting is that, in the 1960's, the Bollandists, charged to authenticate Catholic saints, declared there was no evidence to support the claim that St. Brigid ever existed, yet her shoe, her tunic and her head provide destinations for many a religious pilgrimage even today. As does her grave in Ireland.
One of the most wonderful of all the fantasy things that Catholicism venerates is the House of Loreto. This building, said to be the very house in which Catholicism's principal deity was born, has a most remarkable story. That anyone could believe the story is even more remarkable, yet it is an important shrine for credulous Catholics.
Depending upon which account one reads, the magic house of Loreto was either the home in which the Virgin Mary was born and raised, or the family home of Joseph, Mary and Jesus – bearing in mind that Catholics do not admit to the biblical record of Jesus' siblings by Mary. Of course, I suppose it could have been both Mary's birthplace and her connubial home.
As the 13th Century drew to a close, the fortunes of Christendom in the Holy Land were deteriorating rapidly. For a couple of centuries, a number of crusades had kept the infidels at bay, thereby helping to maintain a Latin presence there. The last crusade was a total failure and, in 1291, Saracens took control of the land that was home to the most holy sites of the Christian faith.
Not to worry. If Catholics could no longer safely travel to the holy places, the places would be brought to them – at least one of them would. That's the story, anyway. And so, in the dark hours of Christendom, Catholic legend informs that God determined to miraculously transport the house in which Mary was born and/or in which she lived with Joseph and Jesus from Nazareth to a rural area of Dalmatia, in what came to be a part of Yugoslavia (I don't know what the area is called in today's rapidly changing geo-political scene). As is not unusual for Catholic miracles, the wonderful event was witnessed by a few simple folk who apparently had a lot of free time on their hands.
Before describing the events of the translation of the Holy House, it would be well to learn some of its history. As you read the following, try to keep the dates straight in your mind. The story begins with Constantine's defeat of Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge in 312. The night before the battle, Constantine reportedly had a vision of a cross in the sky and heard the words,”In Hoc Signo Vinces” (Under this sign you will win). Constantine had his soldiers paint crosses on their shields and, by golly, his outnumbered troops won a devastating victory. The Roman Senate proclaimed Constantine as Augustus Maximus (Supreme Emperor), giving him authority over the remaining two emperors of the Tetrarch.
Following his victory at the Milvian Bridge, Constantine appears to have considered himself to be Christian and, it seems, head of the Christian church. To my mind, Constantine was about as Christian as is the current Pope. In 313, Constantine and co-emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan, a decree that guaranteed religious freedom to Christians throughout the Roman Empire in these words:
Constantine's Christianity appears to have had little to do with Christ, being primarily concerned with political issues. Since the God of the Christians helped him win battles, or so he believed, then he was going to worship the Christian God. The emperor began writing letters to Christian bishops about church controversies and kept a few bishops at court to advise him concerning Christian matters. His advisors counseled that he should donate lots of land and money to the Church. They also informed the emperor that God did not want the Church to pay taxes. Desirous of keeping the Christian God on his side, Constantine followed their advice.
By the year 324, the Christian Emperor Constantine had consolidated all power in his own hands by eliminating Licinius, the last of the Tetrarchs. He then made a tour of his eastern provinces and decided to build a new city to be the capital of the Empire. In founding his new city, named after himself, he let everyone know that it would be a Christian city, and not like Rome, which still was the center of the old Roman religion.
Constantine had brought his mother, erstwhile Britannic barmaid Helena, to court and bestowed upon her the title Augusta. Whatever the nature of the emperor's professed Christianity, according to early church historian Eusebius, his influence led Helena to the Christian faith:
According to Catholic hagiology, Helena traveled around the Western Empire, building churches in Rome and Trier. Then, when she was in her middle 70's, she decided to take a trip to the Holy Land, where she could walk the paths that Jesus trod. Fables of the Roman Church ascribe all manner of wonderful things to Helena. She may have been up in years, but she must have been a ball of fire. Some say that she discovered the spear that the Roman soldier used to pierce Christ's side as He hung from the cross. Not only that, but she is claimed to have found the actual cross upon which Christ was immolated.
The respected Catholic Encyclopedia informs, calling upon the words of Eusebius, that it was in the Holy Land where
With this background, let us now examine the Fable of the Fabulous Flying House. Every time I research topics like Flying Houses, I am struck by the inconsistencies and contradictions in the source documents. It is as though Catholic writers, lacking information, are not at all reluctant to make things up as they go, or to twist earlier accounts to fit their project. This certainly is the case with the pseudo facts relating to Mary's birthplace and home. One Catholic source informs that, though the Saracens desecrated churches and sites sacred to Christians when they defeated the last of the Crusaders, Mary's house escaped desecration. Why was that?
See the conflict? Though Constantine was one of the Tetrarchs of Rome, his territory was not anywhere near the Holy Land. In fact, he did not enter Rome until he had defeated another of the Tetrarch emperors, Maxentius, in 312. Also, as reported by the Catholic Encyclopedia, his mommy didn't travel to the Holy Land until around 324. When she went there, Helena caused two churches to be built.
In the Fall of 2000, the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offered a class, Arch 311, on Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture, taught by Vasilis Marinis. The online study material for that class credits Constantine with having constructed two edifices in the Holy Land:
Neither of these buildings was on the site of Mary's alleged birthplace in Jerusalem, and both were begun more than a decade later than the date Sister Katherine Maria gave for the building of the “first Basilica” built on the site. Another Catholic source, the Passionists, provide somewhat different information.
Are they saying that Mary was born in the pool of Bethsaida? Not at all, but very near to it. An Israeli source fleshes out the details:
Another contradiction? Sister Katherine Maria claimed the Basilica built over Mary's birthplace “survived the desecration,” yet Aviva Bar-Am reports that the church was made into an Islamic seminary by Saladin. The conquerors even inscribed the property with their leader's name. Katherine Maria offers no evidence to support her claim, but Bar-Am can at least point to the inscription carved in stone above the church entrance. Can there be two different versions of the same truth? I think not. Let's turn to the guardians of St. Anne's church, the French White Fathers, to see if they can shed some light on this mystery.
Looks to me like there was no Christian church over the alleged birthplace of Mary, but in fact there was a pagan temple at the site until the 5th century. The early church built over the temple was destroyed by Persians in the 7th century, but soon rebuilt. It was again destroyed in the 11th century. In that same century, Crusaders built a chapel on the ruins and, in 1140 put up a new church. In 1192, Muslims turned the church into a madrasah which, apparently, it continued to be for nearly seven centuries. Offhand, I'd say the church(es) at the alleged site of Mary's birth certainly were desecrated by Muslims.
So. I'd say there is strong traditional support for the argument that the Virgin Mary was born in Jerusalem, at a site that has been marked by a church building since the 5th century. The exact spot were Mary was born is said to be in a crypt below the church.
And in a 'special' place within that crypt is, as might be expected, a Catholic idol.
There is a second alleged birthplace of Mary in Jerusalem, a house, not too far from St. Anne's. There is secular support for Mary's having been born in Sepphoris:
Trying to figure out where Mary was born gets confusing, doesn't it? Perhaps a Catholic priest, a Passionist, can clarify things for us:
That didn't help much. Let's hear from another Catholic source:
The homilist provides more detailed information in a homily written for the same feast in the year 2000:
Let's see now. So far we have seen that Catholic tradition has Mary having been born in two places in Jerusalem, in either a cave or a house, and in Nazareth, Sepphoris or Bethlehem. Working through Catholic tradition and teaching is like trying to find one's way blindfolded, in a swamp, at night.
Let's leave the question of where she was born and try to discover whether she was born in a cave or a house. You might recall that Aviva Bar-Am mentioned a Christian tradition that has Mary “born in a cave near the Bethsaida pool.” The White Fathers agree she was born in a cave, and they run the church that is located over that cave. Another source seems to support that 'tradition.'
If Mary indeed was born in a cave, what's this stuff about the House of Loreto? According to the Catholic Doors homilist, a number of popes seem to have believed that Mary was born in a house in Bethlehem, and they refer to that building as the House of Loreto. He was careful to point out that these papal positions were not presented as infallible truths.
Early in the 15th century, a man called John Poloner went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He recorded the details of his trip, including his visit to Jerusalem, in a journal. In the words that follow, you will notice that he identifies the street in which Joachim's (the alleged name of Mary's father) house was located. Note that he mentions that it was the house in which Mary was born.
Now it is clear. Mary was born in a house, or cave in Jerusalem or Bethlehem or Nazareth or Sepphoris. Unless multiple births were involved, Catholic tradition doesn't seem to provide a lot of help, does it?
But what's the Holy House of Loreto got to do with all this? First thing that is necessary is that one believe that Mary was born in a house in Nazareth. Then, bear in mind that the Saracens crushed the last crusade and consolidated their control of the Holy Land by 1291. This placed Mary's alleged birthplace, at least one of them, in jeopardy. Now, let's pick up the story from a Catholic source:
The fable of the Holy House of Loreto was depicted in a fresco by 18th Century artist Giambattista Tiepolo for the ceiling of the Santa Maria di Nazareth church, also known as the Scalzi Church, in Venice. The fresco was destroyed in World War I, but we have the artist's final study to show us what it looked like. God the Father and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove are at the top of the scene, watching over events. Mary and Baby Jesus are riding on the roof as angels transport the house from Nazareth to Loreto. Joseph is standing beside the house, with his arms raised. The Saracen invaders, weapons in hand, stand watching from the lowest corner of the painting.
When the angels carried the floating house from Nazareth to its several resting places in Europe, it wasn't empty. As you read the following account, from a New Age site, bear in mind that the Floating House had no foundation which means, I do believe, that it had no floor since any floor, other than pounded native dirt, would have rested on a foundation.
Betcha you would like to know what those “undoubtedly authentic relics” that the house came with were. Not to worry, the Magnificat folks inform us. Seems the local bishop had a dream in which the Catholic goddess Mary spoke to him:
Wow! The flying House came with an altar from Peter, a crucifix from the Apostles, and a lifelike statue carved by Luke. Heavy duty stuff!
Are all Catholics so gullible as to believe the fantastic stories of the peripatetic house? Well, at least one cardinal wasn't, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia:
The Catholic Encyclopedia provides other arguments, for and against, the Fable of the Flying House. Also mentioned is another Flying House at Walsingham, in the United Kingdom. There is a bibliography of important source documents at the Santa Casa di Loreto page
Can't imagine why anyone wouldn't believe the stories of that house flitting all over the place. Seems reasonable to me…Not!
Regardless of the utter foolishness of this fable, the Famous Floating House is considered an important shrine by gullible Catholics. The flying rock pile is, in fact, the third most revered pilgrimage town in Italy after Rome and Assisi.
P.T. Barnum was right: There's a sucker born every minute.
As Loraine Boettner wrote,
And what did the Apostle John have to say on the subject?
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