House of the Virgin Mary – Ephesus

by Rosemarie John on September 6, 2013

House of the Virgin Mary

The focal point of our trip to Turkey was visiting places of religious significance. The House of the Virgin Mary was by far one of the most serene places we visited.  There is a sense of calmness in the air, a place of reverence, a place we would love to return to in a heartbeat.

Located approximately 27 kilometres from the town of Kusadasi, which is home to most of the hotels and shopping areas, the House of the Virgin Mary or Meryem Ana Evi (as it is known in Turkish) is a Catholic and Muslim shrine that attracts tourists of all faiths.

The house which is now a chapel is a typical Roman architectural design made entirely of stones. Archaeologists who have examined the house believe most of the building dates from the 6th or 7th century while its foundations are much older and may well date from the 1st century, at the time of Mary.

The lines to enter the chapel during summer are known to be extremely long. We were lucky to visit during winter and had the place mostly to ourselves. As you enter the chapel, there are two single church pews on either side of the house where you can kneel and pray if you wish. Some visitors choose to kneel in front of the alter instead. The alter has a small statue of Mary surrounded by colourful bouquets of flowers. Photography is not allowed inside the chapel.

The peace that permeates the house and its surroundings is unforgettable and infectious making us forget about all the doubts that some people have about the authenticity of  site. Surrounded by aromatic pine trees, the hallowed ground instils a sense of calm and quietude on its visitors.

There is a signboard just as you approach the chapel, it reads:

This place is considered to be the last home of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ.

The facts as found in the Scriptures:

  • St. John in his Gospel tells us that Jesus before dying on the cross entrusted to him the care of His Mother when he said, “here is your Mother” and from that hour St. John took Her to his own.
  • The “Acts of the Apostles” relates how, after the death of Christ, his followers were persecuted in Jerusalem. St. Stephen was stoned in 37 A.D. St James was beheaded in 42 A.D. And they further relate how they divided the world between them for preaching the Gospel: St. John was given Asia Minor. Now Mary was given to his care and with the persecutions, he probably brought her with him.

The facts that are confirmed historically:

There are two evidences:

  • The presence of the tomb of St. John in Ephesus
  • The presence of the first Basilica in the world dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Also the Ecumenical Council of 431 A.D. was held in this basilica in Ephesus for the dogma of the divine Motherhood of Mary. The Council Fathers write about Nestorius: …”after his arrival to Ephesus, where John the Theologian and the Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God…”

Finally we have another oral confirmation preserved faithfully by the Orthodox villagers of Kirkince. These people were the descendants of the Christians of Ephesus. They had passed from generation to generation, the believe of the Dormition of Mary in this place, so they called PANAGHIA KAPULU. They have kept the tradition alive through the annual pilgrimage on 15th of August.

Discovery of this place:

In the last century there appeared a book: “The Life of the Blessed Virgin” published in Germany. The material of this book comes from the revelations of a German stigmatized nun, Catherine Emmerich. She was invalid and had never left Germany. In her visions, she described with amazing accuracy the hills of Ephesus and the House where she saw the Blessed Virgin Mary spending her last years.

Accordingly, two scientific expeditions were organized in 1891 and they found this place in perfect and identical correspondent with the indications of Catherine Emmerich.

The Chapel:

The chapel was rebuilt upon the original foundations of the house of the blessed Virgin Mary and they have been determined to date back the 1st and 4th centuries. Part of the building is of the 7th century and the last restoration took place in 1951.

We spent some time inside the chapel praying and just absorbing the serenity of the environment. It was truly a spiritual moment for us, although we were a little sceptical when we first arrived to the site.

When we exited the house, we noticed a small Muslim shrine dedicated to Mary with a board that listed extracts from the Quran. “Mary is considered one of the most righteous woman in Islamic tradition”, said a Muslim friend who was part of our travelling group. It was very interesting to learn that Mary is mentioned more in the Quran than in the entire New Testament and is also the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran.

Visitors light a votive candle and say a prayer asking for divine help.

Visitors light a votive candle and say a prayer asking for divine help.

It was touching to see how visitors who place their prayers on the wall, pick up and re-tie the ones that have fallen.

It was touching to see how visitors who place their prayers on the wall, pick up and re-tie the ones that have fallen.

Joseph and I then each lit a votive candle in a large glass case outside the chapel and walked towards the holy spring and prayer wall. Thousands of people have attached prayers written on pieces of paper, napkins and ribbons seeking the Blessed Mary’s intervention with difficulties in their lives. We tied ours too! How could we not, after such a special experience?

There have been visitors who have said they felt nothing exceptionally sacred about the site. The House of the Virgin Mary and its history or story behind it, is still very circumstantial and requires a leap of faith…. however maybe your visit to this revered site could have you come to your own conclusions.

*The Roman Catholic Church has never pronounced on the authenticity of the house, for lack of scientifically acceptable evidence. It has, however, from the blessing of the first pilgrimage by Pop Leo XIII in 1896, taken a positive attitude towards the site. Pope Pius XII in 1951, following the definition of the dogma of the Assumption in 1950, elevated the house to the status of a holy place, a privilege later made permanent by Pope John XXIII.

For more information, here’s an article from the Catholic News Service: Tradition of Mary’s house in Turkey stems from nun’s vision

Visiting during winter is ideal as you escape having to battle the cruise ship crowds for a place inside the chapel.

Visiting during winter is ideal as you escape having to battle the cruise ship crowds for a place inside the chapel.

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