Mystery Surrounds City In Turkey Where Blessed Mother Was Said To Have Died (2 Stories)
By Michael H. Brown
Ephesus. Is this where the Virgin Mary spent her last years? It is a city in Turkey and a mysterious one. At the time of Jesus, it was a New York-like metropolis, a busy port and the world's financial center with high culture, the first bank, and a quarter million residents.
It was also the center of occultism. There was the Temple of Artemis, the largest building ever constructed solely from marble, dedicated to the worship of a mother goddess -- a pagan deity that the humble Virgin, in spreading the Gospel of her Son, in standing for holiness, would soon replace.
Across the Middle East and then Europe, Mary, first with her actual presence, and later in manifestations, had begun to establish altars, temples, shrines, churches, and basilicas dedicated to Christ. It is why she is known as "Mother of the Church."
In Ephesus, it was her actual, living presence. For it is said that she settled here with John on a hill. Tradition has it that he built her a home. There she was, on the outskirts of a lavish mercantile center through which the likes of Antony and Cleopatra had passed, along with emperors. Its paganism and wealth were in direct contradiction to what the Blessed Mother came to represent. There were temples, theaters, stadiums, baths, fountains, libraries, ceremonial gates, and opulent villas. We get this from a new, fascinating little book, Mary's House, by Donald Carroll.
It has long been said that during the persecution of early Christians, in the years following the stoning to death of St. Stephen in 37 A.D., John took Mary with him to Ephesus on the Aegean coast along with Mary Magdalene and several other faithful in what had to have been an arduous journey -- especially for a woman who at the time would have been in her sixties. At first Mary is thought to have stayed in a house north of the harbor street near a large sports arena while John was building her a house on a nearby hill. We can only wonder at how she felt. We can only wonder at what she saw. In the sixth century, St. Gregory of Tours referred to the house "at the summit of a mountain near Ephesus with four walls and no roof," the remains, it appeared, of the place in which John and implicitly the Blessed Mother had resided.
"When in 381 A.D. Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire," writes Carroll, "Ephesus was well on its way to becoming recognized as the birthplace of Christianity as well as the death of Christ's Mother." In fact the first church dedicated to the Virgin was in Ephesus, and as Carroll points out, back then a church could be dedicated to a saint only if that person had lived or been martyred there.
In the 18th century Pope Benedict XIV announced flatly that "the Blessed Mary left this life in Ephesus and ascended into Heaven."
The time of her death is placed at between 43 and 63 A.D.
It is where the Ephesians were. It is where Paul preached. It is where he laid the foundations for spiritual warfare.
Later, some incredible things happened to Ephesus. A silting harbor and devaluation of its currency led to its demise. In 262 A.D. hundreds of barbarian ships sailed down the Bosphorus and attacked the city, plundering it and destroying the Temple of Artemis. A century later, two devastating earthquakes brought to a close Ephesus's worldly power and ways. Instead of the center of paganism it became known as the birthplace of a new religion based on Jesus -- bolstered in 431 A.D. when the Third Ecumenical Council was held in Ephesus at the Church of the Virgin Mary, which had replaced the Temple of Artemis!
It was thus accepted that Mary lived here. It was accepted by many that it is also the place where she died. But a key mystery remained: where exactly did the Blessed Mother live? Was the house still around?
We'll take a look at the incredible, miraculous way the Virgin's home was found next week -- a mystery that, unlikely enough, ties into a new Mel Gibson movie.
Return to archive page
Revelations Of Mystic Behind New Gibson Movie Led To Discovery Of Mary's House
By Michael H. Brown
A recent book details how dramatic revelations from famed mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich, the 19th-century German stigmatic who is currently on the road to beatification, led priests to "Mary's House" -- ruins of the place now recognized as where the Blessed Virgin spent her last years.
Emmerich, who has been declared "venerable" and whose revelations on Christ's Passion have influenced a major new Mel Gibson movie (entitled just that, The Passion), was a nun just southwest of Munster when she received visions of the home -- legendary until its rediscovery -- that John had built for the Blessed Mother after leaving the Holy Land.
Long considered the area to which Mary migrated, Ephesus had been recognized by popes and even an ecumenical council as the likely city where Christ's Mother spent her remaining years -- and may have even died.
But the precise location was lost to history -- until visions granted to Emmerich led to what appears to have been a monumental discovery.
Emmerich, whose visions on the lives of Jesus and Mary fill several volumes, had said in the early 1800s she envisioned that "Mary did not live in Ephesus itself, but on a hill to the left of the road from Jerusalem. Narrow paths from Ephesus lead southwards to it. It is a very lonely place, but has many fertile slopes as well as rock caves where several Christian families and friends of Mary already lived. John had a house built for her here. It is on an uneven plateau near the top of the hill, overgrown with trees and wild bushes. There were Jewish as well as Christian settlers here. Mary's house was the only one built of stone. A little way behind it was the summit of the hill, from which one could see Ephesus and also the sea with its many islands. Near here is a castle inhabited by a king who seems to have been deposed."
"It was built of regular stones, rounded at the back," Emmerich had said of the house, "and had a spring running under it. The windows were high up near the flat roof. The main part of the house was divided into two by the fireplace in the middle of it, sunk in the ground, facing the door. Behind the fireplace, the apse of the room was curtained off and formed Mary's oratory. In a niche in the center of the wall there was a receptacle like a tabernacle and in it stood a cross about the length of a man's arm."
These descriptions were received by the nun while meditating in a sickbed where she was to spend 12 years -- often in a coma-like state as she prayed and meditated. During her ecstasies -- many recorded by poet Clemens von Brentano -- Emmerich added that Mary had a built a Way of the Cross behind the house. "It had 12 Stations," said the seer. "At each Station she set up memorial stones -- eight smooth stones with many sides, each resting on a base of the same stone. The stones and their bases were all inscribed with Hebrew letters."
That description of a place no longer known to the Church was to materialize in startling fashion when several priests -- first a French abbot named Julien Gouyet, then a team led by Father Eugene Poulin, a Lazarist priest, and Father M. H. Jung, a distinguished Hebrew scholar and determined enemy of mystics -- closely investigated the nun's claims decades after Emmerich died and found a spot near Ephesus that matched the visions in stunning fashion, according to the book Mary's House, by Donald Carroll.
It was an Indiana Jones-like investigation. The first was Father Gouyet, who traveled to Ephesus in 1881 and found the ruins of an ancient house that fit the description. But his discovery was discouraged by the Vatican as well as diocesan superiors who were intrigued but embarrassed that the discovery was based on a nun's private revelation.
"At their subtle insistence," writes Carroll, "the matter was dropped. And it stayed dropped for another decade, only to reappear in the strangest of circumstances."
The strange circumstance: according to Carroll, in mid-November 1890, Sister Marie de Mandat Grancey, the mother superior at a Sisters of Charity hospital in Smyrna, happened to ask a visiting priest if he would conduct a spiritual reading, and when the priest -- Father Poulin -- grabbed for several volumes from the library, he was both shocked and disgusted to see one of Emmerich's books, The Life and Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (one of two private revelations said to form the foundation of the Gibson movie) among the volumes.
"To understand his reaction, it is necessary to know that Eugene Poulin was also director of the French Sacred Heart College in Smyrna and a rigorous classical scholar who was deeply opposed to any form of mysticism," writes Carroll in his eye-opener. "Nonetheless, he flipped through the Emmerich book until he found himself, to his surprise, reading it with greater and greater interest."
One evening another priest asked Father Poulin if he had read a second book of Emmerich's revelations, called The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
No, he said, he didn't even know of its existence.
The priest gave him a copy -- and it was in this book that he came across the extraordinarily detailed description of Mary's home in Ephesus. Reading from this book provoked yet more intense debate. The skeptics were in the majority -- led by the outspoken Father Jung, who termed Sister Emmerich's visions "girlish imaginings.
But to resolve the issue -- in what almost sounds like a lark -- the group set out on July 27, 1891, and took a train to the town of Selcuk, the nearest stop to Ephesus. There they were joined by a Muslim guide.
And there they found exactly what Emmerich said: compelling evidence that this indeed was a place where the most famous woman in history, a woman of huge biblical stature, yet at the same time the humble handmaiden, had lived before her assumption into Heaven.
After a false start in which they searched the wrong area, the men decided to precisely follow Venerable Emmerich's directions and track the old Jerusalem road south until it curved past the eastern edge of Ephesus, where they needed to locate a road up the mountains.
That took a while, but finally they found a parched path and struggled up what was known as Nightingale Mountain. "Soon they came to a small plateau where some women were working in a tobacco field," writes Carrol. Asking for water, they were told by these women that there was a spring up the mountain at a "monastery."
Actually, there was no monastery -- but apparently there once had been. What did it commemorate? It was now a pile of rubble. The priests were especially interested in a little ruin at the center of the encampment.
"After poking around among the stones," says Carroll, "it suddenly dawned on [Father Jung] that the basic configuration of the ruin conformed almost exactly to Sister Emmerich's description of Mary's house."
There was the spring. It was a highland. Moreover, from a little higher up, it was possible to see both Ephesus and the sea -- the only spot in the area where that was possible. The ancient monastery had obviously been located there because it was thought to be a holy place. There were also graves in the area, and the skulls of those interred had been pointed toward the ruins of the home -- as if in reverence. Not far away, there were also the remains of something else: a castle. The priests found rocks with old Hebrew inscriptions, proving that both Jewish and Christian settlers had been there, as Emmerich had also said, adding that the Blessed Mother had used Hebrew on stones to make a Way of the Cross. Meanwhile, locals informed them of the legend that Mary Magdalene -- said to have accompanied St. John and the Blessed Virgin -- had been entombed in the vicinity!
It was exactly as Emmerich had said. The priests were further to learn that while this area was now unknown to the Church -- and had been for centuries -- people in the village had always gone to this spot in memory of Mary. It was known as "The Gate of the All Holy."
Where was the fireplace? According to Carroll, this turned out to be the most dramatic find. Seven years later, on August 24, 1898, at 3:30 p.m., workers clearing away the earth in the main room suddenly came upon charred residue a couple feet below the surface! When they dug deeper, they found more blackened stones. This was in the exact spot where Sister Emmerich had said the fireplace was located.
So it was that a mystic led to rediscovery of a spiritual treasure, one that has attracted pilgrimages by Pope Paul VI and John Paul II, who said Mass there. Over a million a year now visit this tiny remote shrine and find what Carroll describes as "uncommon serenity and sanctity." Since 1902, he says, there have also been reports of apparitions. Those who visit receive an official indulgence. God-willing, we will be investigating it further in the future. "The house itself is the miracle," notes Carroll. "Moreover, Pope John Paul II has now begun the formal procedure for the beatification -- perhaps leading to canonization -- of Sister Anne Emmerich," whose visions are about to burst onto the world scene in the form of that new movie and "without whose visions the little house on Nightingale Mountain would almost certainly have continued to disintegrate until it disappeared altogether."
[Resources: Mary's House, The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ]
Return to archive page