Dec 31, 2010

Visiting the Virgin Mary's House in Turkey

Several years ago John and I traveled around Israel. In Nazareth we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation where, according to scriptures, the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary. Just a few feet away we went to the Church of St. Joseph that was built on the site of his carpentry shop. In Jerusalem we walked the Via Dolorosa which is believed to be the way Jesus walked from the Roman Judgement Hall to Calvary. Prayers were said at the 14 Stations of the Cross. There were many other sites significant to the Christian religion in both Nazareth and Jerusalem. On our last day in Israel we went to Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity. I thought we had visited all the important Christian holy sites so I was surprised to hear that the House of the Virgin Mary was in Turkey.

I had never really thought about Mary’s life after the death of Jesus. Before Jesus died he asked the apostle John to take care of his mother. Therefore Mary went with John when he went to Ephesus to preach and write.

The story that led to locating Mary’s House is quite amazing. It is told that in the early 1800s, a bedridden German nun, Anna Katherina Emmerich, had visions that included the story of the Virgin Mary and her years after the death of Jesus. When the persecution of Christians increased she traveled to Ephesus with John and lived in a small stone house John built for her on the hillside above the city of Ephesus. Emmerich’s visions were recorded in a book, which was later read by others who went in search of Mary’s house. The book was very detailed making locating the site fairly easy. Plus, according to our guide, for generations the people who lived near Ephesus had venerated the area as Mary’s House long before people came in search of it. Archeological work on the site showed that there was indeed a building on that spot 2000 years ago that met the description described by Emmerich. Pope Paul VI unofficially authenticated the site during his visit in 1967.

Today on the quiet hillside, with a view of the valley below, the small stone house has been rebuilt with a chapel and small side room, again based on Emmerich’s narrative. Nearby is a fountain where people believe the water is holy and also a wall with hundreds of white pieces of cloth tied to it where people make a wish.

Mary’s House is a place of pilgrimage visited by thousands of tourists every year - Christian and Moslems alike. The Moslems revere her as Mother Mary, the mother of the Prophet Jesus.

Located in Western Turkey on the Aegean Sea, Ephesus was one of the important cities in ancient Greece and Rome. John and I walked down the Marble Way that was once lined with white marble statues and found it amazing that it is the same road trod upon by Cleopatra, Anthony, the apostles Peter and John, and the Virgin Mary.

Even in ruins Ephesus is impressive with a huge amphitheater and a beautiful library that protected 12,000 scrolls from the heat and humidity. I am always amazed at places in antiquity that had public baths, water, drainage systems, and other “civilized” conveniences that Americans and Europeans did not have two hundred years ago.