Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19: 25-27)
It is with this verse in the bible that we open today’s post. For it is this post that leads us to this story. The House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus. In the bible, we are told that at his crucifixion, Jesus entrusted Mary to John the youngest of his disciples (theological and textural analysis adds that the fact that the choice of words by Jesus, extend the motherhood of Mary to all humanity, you can read more in the Catechism of the Catholic Church if you are interested). Mary is a powerful figure in the Catholic Church, unlike in the protestant church for example.
But in a more practical way, Jesus entrusted his mother to John and John. Catholic faith believes in something called Holy Tradition (that local beliefs passed down by tradition and not in the bible have validity within the tradition of the church), and it was accepted by many bishops and priests a few centuries later that Mary at her death was assumed into heaven without a burial and had ascended from the city of Ephesus, where Saint John had brought her to.
Ephesus, in the time of Mary and Jesus, was then however not conducive to Christians, and to live in such a city as the mother of a crucified man was dangerous. As such a small house up on the hill away from the city was built for Mary to live in to keep her safe until she passed away (called in theological terms, her Dormition – falling asleep).
The site was claimed first described by a German saint, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, whose visions were written down by a writer and published after both the saint and her writer had died. Blessed Anne Catherine was a pious and observant, but frail nun who was known for religious ecstasy and later on the development of stigmata – the appearance of bodily wounds corresponding to where Jesus was crucified. Although the authenticity of the writings have been questioned, it is a fact that a house was discovered in Ephesus based on the descriptions in her book. This was the description in the book (source):
Mary did not live in Ephesus itself, but in the country near it. … Mary’s dwelling was on a hill to the left of the road from Jerusalem, some three and half hours from Ephesus. This hill slopes steeply towards Ephesus; the city, as one approaches it from the south east seems to lie on rising ground…. Narrow paths lead southwards to a hill near the top of which is an uneven plateau, some half hour’s journey.
Using her description, in 1881, a French priest decided to try to see what he could find in Ephesus and reported the finding of a small stone house on a hill. His claim was not taken seriously until a decade later when another two priests made the trip and found the same house, documenting the fact that the local descended from the early Ephesians had already considered it a pilgrimage site for the same reason. They were probably not cognizant of the book from Blessed Anne Catherine. Groups from the church then began to take the claim seriously, purchased the land and maintained the area.
This was an important finding since even within the church there are competing traditions, some belief in the Jerusalem tradition versus Ephesus based on where they believed Mary passed away. While there was no evidence or proof for the authenticity of the site, the fact that the church the bestowed indulgences to forgive sins of all pilgrims who visited this site and three Popes, visited the area, give the faithful a belief in the holiness of the site.
The site attracts the faithful of both Islam and Christianity since Mary or Maryam is a important saint in Islam too, being as she is the mother of Jesus (Isa) a prophet of God in the Islamic tradition (the main difference between the two religions is that Islam sees Jesus as a prophet, while Christianity sees Jesus as divine).
Regardless of the veracity of the site, the fact that it gives the religious succour, is perhaps the most important point.
ON THE MAP