Wednesday, 2 September 2009

House of the Virgin Mary

24 August 2009. Just outside the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey is this small chapel, venerated as the last home of Mary, mother of Jesus.

The Thomson Celebration had docked in Kusadasi after an overnight sailing from Crete. We had chosen this day as our only full-day excursion of the week because it had several things that I wanted to see.

To understand the evidence for this being the place where the Virgin Mary lived, we need to go back in time a bit. Jesus, whilst on the Cross, entrusted the care of his mother to St John the Apostle. The tomb of St John is also in this region as are several stories of his activities here - we shall hear of more later.

The first church to the Virgin Mary was also built in this region, at a time when church dedications were only made to those who had lived locally.

In 1812 a German nun, Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich, who was an invalid and who had never travelled away from her home, had a vision of Mary's journey with John and of her home which she described in detail, her description being written down word for word by the writer Brentano. During the visions Catherine developed the marks of the stigmata - the 5 wounds of Christ.

Years later a French clergyman read the account and travelled to Ephesus in search of the house and found this chapel, an exact match for the description. He wrote to Rome but there was not much of a response. In 1891 however more clergy and Catholic officials visited the site. From the following year it became a place of pilgrimage and was restored in 1897. The chapel is believed to have been built in the 6th or 7th century but on foundations of the 1st century, which are still visible and marked with a red line.

The site has been visited by Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI celebrated mass there.

The spring that runs under the house (also included in Catherine's visions) is accessible today through three openings, said to give health, love and wealth. I suspect they may bring more spiritual wealth than monetary...

I was a little surprised actually because even had the place not actually been the home of Mary, it has been a place of worship and veneration for many centuries - the locals have always believed it to be the home of Mary throughout history - but I couldn't sense any atmosphere or anything. Even inside the chapel, where silence was asked (though not always observed) I didn't sense any special calm or power or anything. It was, perhaps, more like Westminster Abbey has become: more a place for tourists than serious pilgrims...

Two armed Turkish soldiers were standing, fairly relaxed and willing to chat, via our guide, Ghengis. I'm not sure why they were there. "In case of terrorism" was Ghengis's explanation but, sorry lads, you'd be the first to go...

Genghis is seen here with Fran at the wells and in the background is a prayer wall, running off into the distance.

The wall is covered in ribbons tied there, each one representing a prayer left by someone. There are many many thousands.

An unmissable place to visit. There are two more unmissable places on my list for this day ... and three more places on the itinerary. More to come then...

Photos available in larger sizes at Flickr.

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