The House of Mother Mary (Meryem Ana Evi) sits on a mountaintop in the vicinity of ancient Ephesus, and modern day Selçuk, Turkey.* Just before Jesus was crucified, he presented John to Mary and Mary to John as mother and son to care for each other. This house is believed to have been built by John and where Mary lived out her later years. In the valley at the base of the mountains lie ruins of St. John’s Basilica, a fifth century structure built on the site of a chapel and his remains.
The house was discovered in the mid-nineteenth century through a series of revelations and explorations that began with the visions of a devout Catholic nun, Anne Catherine Emmerich. It’s impossible to know for sure that it was Mary’s home, evidence being circumstantial, but the site has become a pilgrimage for people of faith. It is a chapel and shrine visited by popes, important dignitaries, and millions more like us but especially Catholics. At least one mass is held daily. Muslim women who revere Mary as the mother of a prophet also make pilgrimage there.
We followed a winding road high into the hills on our journey to the House, passing a massive statue of Mary covered with eight kilos of pure gold. We were fortunate to arrive early, just as the sun rose over the mountain — a sign of good luck, Bulent insisted. The air was cool and fresh, the flora lush and green. The property felt like an oasis, a respite from the oppressive heat of the valley below.
We entered the small house without delay — some will wait two hours, Bulent noted. It is a quiet, reflective space; no photos allowed. We lit candles as we exited, then passed several waterspouts along the walkway. Spring water high on the hilltop once ran through a channel in Mary’s room. Now it is funneled into pipes so visitors may drink to health, wealth, and happiness. Many seek blessings of fertility and healing and may collect water to take home. A long wishing wall of cotton strings encourage the faithful to leave notes and prayer requests. Unprepared, we paused to make a wish, tying two strings together at Bulent’s urging. When in Turkey…
As a Protestant, I’ve not given much thought to Mary — except at Christmas time, when her role as obedient and faithful servant is proclaimed. My faith is focused on the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Perhaps Mary deserves more of my consideration. This mountaintop experience caused me to wonder: What became of her after the resurrection? Was she protected or did she live in fear and persecution? Did she flee for her life? Was she lonely and sad or did she live fully and joyfully? If she lived here, in this house, I can well imagine her final years were peaceful and fulfilled.
Maybe this house on Mount Nightingale (Bülbüldağı) was the very place where her story played out. Maybe it was not. But on this day, it was a beautiful reminder of a young woman who stepped up in faith and bore a heavy burden for the entire world. Before we departed, I purchased sweetly scented rose oil and vials of holy water for a few of the faithful at home. Uncharacteristically, I filled a small earthen jug with water captured at the spring for our home as well. The charms of Meryem Ana Evi were irresistible!
*Our brief visit to Turkey was infinitely more interesting in the company of a private guide, Bulent, through Sea Song Tours. An archaeologist who worked in his early career at Ephesus, his insider’s perspective and expertise, along with deep pride in his beautiful country, made a world of difference in our experience.