Ephesus

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Ephesus, Turkey (Formerly “Asia Minor”).

The ancient ruins of the once great city of Ephesus lie on the western coast of Turkey, south of the large port city of Izmir (formerly Smyrna). Ephesus is the site of the first of the seven Churches mentioned in the biblical Book of Revelation. (Rev. 2:1-11), see map above. The second church was in Smyrna, today known as Izmir, only 35 miles (57 km) from Ephesus. Once a flourishing Aegean sea port and the capital of the Roman province of Asia, Ephesus had a population of over 200,000. Due to land and sea trade, Ephesus became the largest and richest city in the province of Asia Minor. That great wealth helped to build an enormous temple to the pagan goddess Diana (also known as “Artemis”). The size and magnificence of the temple caused it to be known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Camel trains from the east met ships from the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, and also brought thousands of pilgrims to visit the huge pagan idol. It is said that Mark Anthony and Cleopatra were frequent visitors. The city of Ephesus eventually declined due to gradual silting up of the harbor, earthquakes and marauding raiders.

Basilica and Tomb of St. John (the Evangelist).

It is widely accepted among scholars, that St. John lived in Ephesus (Asia Minor) and wrote his Gospel there. Upon St. John’s death in Ephesus, a memorial monument was erected over his grave on a hill close to the village now known as Selçuk, adjacent to Ephesus. That hill is known at Ayasouluk Hill and is marked with an ancient castle on its peak (called the “Citadel”), which can be seen for miles around. It is interesting to note that prior to the invasion by the Seldjuk Turks, the town of Selçuk was known as Ayasoluk, meaning “Devine Theologian” in honor of St. John.  In the 4th Century, a great basilica was built by Roman Emperor Constantine over St. John’s tomb. Later, in the 6th Century, an even larger and more magnificent basilica was built over the earlier structure on orders of the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian, who ruled from 527 – 565 A.D.  Today, one can see the outline of both basilicas, each of which center their cruciform plan on the tomb of St. John. The beauty and size of Justinian’s Basilica of St. John would rival most modern cathedrals today. The ruins of this basilica have been thoroughly investigated by archaeologists and, commencing in 1956, have been partially restored to their original scale by The American Society of Ephesus. They are now preserved in a guarded condition of dignity, solemnity and respect.

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This aerial view shows the tomb of St. John in the intersection of the two arms of the church.
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The restored Celsus Library, near the Agora in Ephesus, Turkey.
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A rendering of ancient Ephesus looking toward the harbor, 1st Century, A.D.

The Apostle John wrote in his Gospel that as he and the Blessed Virgin Mary stood below the Cross, Jesus looked at the pair and said, “Woman, behold thy son!” And to John, “Behold thy mother!” The next line from John 19:27 is not as well known, “And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” Jesus thus entrusted the care and safety of His mother to John, who acknowledged that he accepted that duty and for as long as She lived, John “took Her into his own home.” St. John’s first hand account confirms that he protected Mary from persecution by taking her into his home. That home was in Ephesus, Turkey, where John’s ministry flourished along with that of St. Paul as the early Christian church grew there. In 1891 a group of French priests discovered a small stone house on a mountain top in Turkey, using the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich as a roadmap.

The Church of Mary (Ephesus, Turkey).

Further evidence that Mary lived in or near Ephesus is the fact that the Third Ecumenical Council of the Church was held in Ephesus in 431 A.D. This council of more than 200 bishops met in a large cathedral known as the Church of St. Mary (today also called “The Double Church”) on a site not far from the great amphitheater in ancient Ephesus. It was during this council that the leaders of the early Church adopted the doctrine of Mary as “Theotokos,” Greek for the “mother of God.” The custom of that time was to name a church after a saint only if that person had actually lived or died in the vicinity. In a letter from the Council Fathers, addressed to all the clergy announcing this doctrine, it added that the Council was conducted in Ephesus, “in which place John the Theologian and the Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God were.” The word “were” is interpreted as meaning “until death.” Therefore, we have early documentation of the Ephesus tradition, pre-dating the present tomb in Jerusalem by at least 20 years. It was surely no coincidence that the leaders of the early Church decided to hold this historic council in Ephesus to debate and decide the issue of Mary as the “Mother of God.”

Since the late 19th century, the House of the Virgin Mary (Meryem Ana Evi to the locals), about 7 km (4 mi) from to town of Selçuk, has been considered to have been the last earthly home of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The discovery of the house in 1891 was based on the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), a German nun. The house is a popular place of pilgrimage for both Christians and Muslims, which has been visited by three recent popes.