st. john’s basilica

As long as we were in the neighborhood, I really wanted to see St. John’s Basilica. For the price of two ($5) entrance tickets, it was added to our itinerary.* The basilica sits in a valley in the vicinity of ancient Ephesus and modern day Selçuk, Turkey, hills and mountains rising in the distance. At the end of the day, a clear view of Mount Nightingale, site of the House of Mother Mary, was inspiring — in a satisfied We’ve come full circle… kind of way.

It was to John that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was entrusted (and vice versa), as Jesus faced crucifixion. The apostle, evangelist, and ‘disciple Jesus loved’ was buried on this site. A chapel was constructed in the fourth century and dramatically expanded in the next century into a large basilica, shaped like a cross. The basilica included a beautiful baptistry — still a remarkable feature. Marble surround and steps lead into a large well for water submersion. On either side are small wells, once used for oil and wine.

We learned that in building early Christian structures, materials were recycled from pagan temples, often deconstructed in disillusionment and anger. Some of the materials in St. John’s Basilica were sourced from the famous and massive temple of Artemis at Ephesus. One of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it was four times the size of the Parthenon! Some columns were then marked with a cross, a symbol of their reclaimed purpose.

By that time, Artemis had been rolled up into the original wonder woman, a goddess in control of fertility (hence her many breasts or eggs) but just about everything else, too. The futility of trying to appease a carved stone or silver idol overwhelms me now. I can only imagine the joy in the Good News early Christians brought to Ephesus, speaking with firsthand knowledge of the known God and his son, Jesus. Such incredible hope!

Except, of course, for those who were most concerned with the economy of the pantheon. One God of unlimited, death-defying power was not necessarily well received. In Ephesus, a riot nearly ensued (Acts 19); Paul was often met with opposition and threats on his life. But now, a single column remains of one hundred twenty-seven that once constituted the Temple of Artemis. A fitting, if ironic, end: the silversmiths of Ephesus were ultimately undone! And Paul’s impassioned message echoes on, even in these ruins.

~René Morley

Exploring Turkey Series: Turkish DelightAngel EyesHouse of MarySt. John’s Basilica, Ancient Ephesus and the Terrace HousesPaul’s Ephesus, and Hereke Carpet.

*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.

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