Celebrating Our Lady of Loreto
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
Along with St. Michael the Archangel, Our Lady of Loreto is one of the patron saints of our city, and her image can be seen on the façades of some of the oldest houses in town.
There are two versions of the story about the moving of the Holy House of Loreto from Nazareth to Italy, and the same stories explain the reason why the Virgin does not have arms. The arrival of the Virgin in the Villa of San Miguel el Grande is related to the arrival of the Jesuits, as well as to Manuel Tomás de la Canal’s arrival in San Miguel el Grande in 1730. De la Canal financed a replica of the Holy House of Loreto in Italy for San Miguel el Grande. The Virgin was appointed as Grand Patroness of the village by the city council, so showy festivities were held to honor her. Why, then, is the Virgin of Loreta not so celebrated here as in the past? Why was she appointed as grand patroness of the village? Where is her sanctuary located? City historian Graciela Cruz López talked to Atención and answered these and other questions.
Miraculous or manual transport?
Cruz López explained that devotion to the Virgin of Loreto is a Catholic tradition with medieval origins. Her veneration originated in Europe, mainly in Italy, then later was extended to Spain and thus to the American continent with the conquest of Mexico. The Holy House of Loreto from Italy was originally located in Nazareth. There are two stories to explain its transport to Italy. “The first one is celestial,” said Cruz, who explained that this story explains that angels moved the house from Nazareth to Italy, flying through the skies supported by the Virgin’s arms. “She donated her arms for the move, and for that reason the Marian representation of the Virgin does not have arms,” explained Cruz.
The second version is related to a wealthy and powerful Italian family who paid for the relocation of three walls of the Holy House, where the Virgin lived with her husband and son, and where Jesus Christ lived 30 of his 33 years. From this version the religion explains that “while fighting against the Turks a priest was partially disemboweled. After the fight he walked to the Holy House of Loreto, supporting his entrails with his hands, but he also had the support of the Virgin’s arms. He arrived at the basilica of Loreto, gave a mass and after that died before the altar.”
The Virgin’s arrival in San Miguel el Grande
Cruz López commented that Manuel Tomás de la Canal’s father (also named Manuel de la Canal) arrived in Mexico in about 1680 and financed many Jesuit institutions in El Valle de México, such as the San Francisco Javier Church in Tepotzotlán, where a Holy House was constructed, as well as a chapel for the Virgin of Loreto. Manuel Tomás later got married in Guanajuato to María Gabriela de Herbás y Flores. The couple arrived in the Villa of San Miguel between 1730 and 1732 and started the construction of the Holy House of Loreto in el Oratorio, which was finished a few years later, and a European image of Our Lady of Loreto was placed there. According to Cruz, the reason why the Virgin of Loreto in Italy is dark and on the American continent is white could be related to a fire in the chapel in Italy that discolored the sacred statue.
Where to find Our Lady
After the construction of the House of Loreto, a second church, La Ermita, was inaugurated to honor the same Virgin in 1736. In this church there is a painting from an unknown artist that depicts the transport of the Holy House by angels. Don José González Álvarez, who has been in charge of La Ermita, said that his ancestors told him that “the statue in the Holy House of Loreto at El Oratorio was brought to Mexico from Spain by ship. The image arrived in Veracruz and from there was sent to Mexico City and later was brought to San Miguel by cart. Since the Holy House had not been finished yet, the statue was placed at La Ermita, and when her house was finished, they took the Virgin to El Oratorio with a very showy celebration.” Later, according to don José, members of the De la Canal family commissioned a sculpture of the Virgin of Loreto from a Mexican family, which currently is venerated at La Ermita. It is a Virgin with different characteristics; it has a more Mexican face and even looks younger than the one at El Oratorio.
Later, according to information from Cruz López, the construction of the Holy House and the chapel of the Seven Princes in the Shrine of Jesus the Nazarene in Atotonilco took place, as well as the Holy House of Loreto in Guanajuato, also linked to De la Canal family.
Nowadays, around the city, several statues of the Virgin of Loreto can be seen in niches and doors, not just in the urban area but also in rural communities, such as Montecillo de Nieto, where there is a sculpture of the Virgin at the top of the Indians’ chapel. According to Cruz López, the images are related to the devotion that the population had for the Virgin, or the houses belonged to De la Canal family or friends of theirs. In el Centro, images of the Virgin of Loreto can be seen at the house of the Mayorazgo de la Canal on calle Canal, on calle Loreto, at the Instituto Allende, at Hotel la Ermita, and many other places.
Celebrating the Virgin of Loreto
According to Cruz López, the Virgin was appointed as Grand Patroness of the Villa of San Miguel el Grande on September 8, 1836, by the Spanish city council, and for that reason a celebration to honor her was held every September. The inhabitants of the village used to ask the Virgin for favors in hard times, such as when there were illnesses or droughts. “There are documents with testimonies of miracles granted by the Virgin, such as the healing of illnesses,” said Cruz López. She also commented that the celebration was as important and spectacular as the St. Michael the Archangel celebration, and she concurs with Father Roberto Almaguer that the festivity lost its importance owing to subsequent social and religious changes in the country, the most important being that the tradition was very linked to Spanish families in the village. But it is notable, commented Cruz López, that the largest neighborhood in the village, with more than 400 families, bore her name: Barrio de Loreto.
This year, the celebration in El Oratorio will be on Saturday, September 8, and will start with a mass at 7:30am. Later, outside the church there will be a Mexican fair with food, giant puppets and stars from La Alborada (dawn), folkloric and Aztec dancers, as well as live music. In La Ermita, the celebration will take place on Sunday, September 9, starting with a mass at 7am. Calle Salida Real a Querétaro will be closed at 3pm for the celebration, which will feature a palo ensebado (greased pole) competition. Contestants attempt to scale a greased pole to reach the food, toys or other items placed at the top. Live music, food, local singers, dancers and fireworks will also be part of the celebration.
A talk about Our Lady of Loreto will be given by Graciela Cruz López on calle Loreto on Saturday, September 8, at 8pm. It is open to the general public.