ancient ephesus

Ephesus-2012-Rene Morley-SRS

Ephesus, Turkey, is considered one of the most important ancient archaeological sites in the world.*  Its history dates back 8,000 years and encompasses several locations, many earthquakes and phases of rebuilding. In its heyday of 200,000 or more inhabitants, it was the fourth largest population center in the region. It’s the same city Paul visited, lived in, and referred to throughout his New Testament writings. I knew all of that, but I was still completely unprepared for its expanse or the excitement those old stones would impart!

In ancient times, the city was a significant port. Most travelers entered from the sea-side. The landscape has shifted, the shoreline is now several miles distant, and tourists enter the site from the east. This makes for an easy walk downhill most of the way. Even so, I was glad we’d arrived early in the day as a fierce August sun made her steady ascent.

Near the entrance is a curbstone carved with one of the earliest Christian symbols. In ancient Greek script, all five letters fit within and form a circle. We know it as the sign of the fish: Jesus Christ, Savior, Son of God. A pile of hollow clay fixtures was stacked nearby. These fragments once served as plumbing or heating pipes throughout the city.

Ancient Romans were famed for moving water around, to, and through their cities but that was just part of their engineering skill set. Not far from the entrance were the distinct Roman arches of the baths. There were separate temperature zones for the bather’s comfort and health: a frigidarium (cold), a tepidarium (warm), a calidarium (hot), a sudatorium (sweating), along with a dressing area, a bathing pool, and public restrooms. The stone floors were heated by hypocaust, circulating hot air underneath. It’s no wonder the baths were also a place of business! But in fact, we saw ample signs of creature comforts among the ancients as the tour progressed.

Many stones along the street were carved with names and symbols to signal the purpose of the local practitioner. Bulent interpreted, linking the Greek root with a recognizable modern day word. For a moment it seemed we were on the set of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Everything traces back to Greek something!

Impressive as it is, you have to use your imagination on site at Ephesus; there are a lot of missing pieces. Among the most stunning ruins was the famed Celsus library, a strikingly beautiful structure — even in current skeletal form. Excavations reveal a hidden passage from the library to the ‘love house’ for those merely feigning scholarly interests. Hmmm.

Ancient Ephesus was also Paul’s Ephesus. And that, to me, is where it really gets interesting! Read on, part 2 of Ancient Ephesus…

~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.

paul’s ephesus

I’ve shared some photos and thoughts from an amazing day in Ancient Ephesus. It was profound — and mostly because I believe.  We who know the scripture, who have faith to believe, tend to lose sight of the remarkable cultural transformation that the apostles sparked in their journeys to places like Ephesus, Athens, and Rome. Spending a few days in their footsteps this summer, I was reminded of the influence of mythology on the ancients. It was a dizzying array of gods and goddesses eventually displaced by Christianity.

It was particularly obvious in Ephesus, walking from Kuretes to Marble Street. We passed remnants of fountains, temples, monuments, government buildings, and stoa with a steady stream of gods and goddesses. Pagan culture was so pervasive.

The Grand Theater, built into the slopes of Mount Pion was the end point of our exploration. This amphitheater held 25,000 people and remains mostly intact. Originally constructed for the arts, populist interest and thirst for blood eventually brought the gladiator games to town.

We paused there, in the shade on the steps of the entrance to the Grand Theater, and gazed out upon the huge agora. It once bustled with merchants and the business of every day life. Perhaps Paul’s impassioned pleas echoed here; perhaps he spoke from this very spot? Quite likely, it seems. It was surreal to consider our paths crossing, except for a couple thousand of years.

It was here that the prosperous silversmith, Demetrius, nearly started a riot in defense of the goddess, Artemis. (Acts 19 ) The entire city was in an uproar, many gathered in the amphitheater to hear Demetrius praise Artemis and rage against Paul. (Spoiler alert: Artemis goes down!)

Fortunately, Paul’s companions persuaded him not to enter the fray. No doubt they saved his life. Not far away, however, is a hilltop structure in which he was later imprisoned. I can hardly imagine the oppressive heat and deprivation he suffered there. But so it went for him, from town to city, flogging to stoning, shackles to prison.

Yet He was fearless in his determination to share the good news of a known God and his son, Jesus. He had been transformed so powerfully that he could not help it! It struck me then, midst this journey to early Christendom: Paul, with personal experience of the power of a resurrected Savior was in many ways more a threat to the establishment than Jesus himself had been.

When the one God of the Jews spread his arms wide in a warm welcome to Gentiles, a cosmic blast of energy roared forth, rippling across time and space. Artemis was one of many casualties. Christianity was and is an amazingly disruptive force!

~René Morley

Exploring Turkey Series: Turkish Delight, Angel 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.

terrace houses

 

The biggest surprise of ancient Ephesus were the terrace houses, a beehive of archaeological activity underway for thirty years.  In this series of closely connected homes of wealthy citizens built into the hillside, archaeologists have uncovered intricate mosaics and frescoes, indoor pools and fountains, central heat and indoor plumbing, and a surgical practice with waiting room. I was especially struck by the juxtaposition in that these homes seemed to have both private studies for scholarly work and slaves’ quarters. So enlightened, in some ways, yet in this the ancients were blinded. Two thousand years later, our nation’s founders had not progressed much.

The entire site is situated inside a superstructure to protect from the elements as excavation continues. Archaeologists work side by side, piecing together thousands of fragments of artifacts unearthed, as curious tourists peer over their shoulders. A lengthy glass walkway protects fragile mosaics; extensive metal scaffolding and stairwells climb three or four stories high to allow fantastic views of the site and work at hand.

Later we would view the most fragile artifacts at the Ephesus Museum — a treasure trove of discovery where ancient life is restaged. Architectural artifacts, statues, and finds from throughout the city are also placed here for safekeeping. Among Bulent’s personal finds on display were a blue patter he’d reassembled from many pieces, an intact gold idol, and a bronze pitcher containing wine sediment, aged two thousand years. Bulent laughed as he recalled the conversation with his colleague over testing those ancient spirits: a day in the life of an archaeologist!

~René Morley

Exploring Turkey Series: Turkish DelightHouse 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.

hereke carpet

Among the highlights of our trip to Turkey* was learning about the art of carpet weaving. Nomadic Turks developed designs and techniques and passed them along through the generations. Carpets were a perfect solution to beautify a tent-based lifestyle: when it was time to move on, carpets rolled up quickly and traveled easily. Some styles were distinctive of a region. Motifs used in weaving were like a language, each carpet telling a story the weaver might never speak aloud.

One of the most intricate and highly valued styles is Hereke — the presidential carpet. However, there are dozens of distinctively beautiful styles. Silk-on-silk is the most valuable combination; cotton and wool are also used. Hand-knotted carpets are bequeathed as treasured pieces of art, many acquiring value with time. Unfortunately, knockoffs and machine-made carpets copying these age-old patterns threaten to undermine traditional artistry.

To preserve this cultural treasure, the government has established carpet weaving schools across the country. There young people, especially girls, are trained in the art. The more skilled they become, the higher the price their carpets command. Demonstrations on site serve to educate the public. School-based showrooms serve as authentic clearinghouses for traditional designs. The finest hand-made carpets in the country are purchased for resale; reportedly, the better prices are here, compared to city storefronts. The government covers shipping costs and all duties associated with the purchase of authentic carpets in Turkey.

When I expressed interest in purchasing a carpet, Bulent extended our tour to include a stop at a Topkapi carpet center in Kusadasi. Our first event at the school was a demonstration of silk preparation. Silkworms consume mulberry leaves and then spin themselves into small white cocoons, which are harvested. Dozens of cocoons floated in a tub of water. The end thread was retrieved from each of twenty-five to thirty cocoons using a stiff brush and brisk swirling motion. These 25-30 thin filaments were spun together to create one single silk strand. We were amazed to discover the resulting thread seemed as strong and hard as a wire.

The silk skeins must be washed and dyed, processes that soften it for use in weaving. A gorgeous array of colored skeins hung along the wall. We observed several women working large vertical looms, each with a placard to detail the pattern. This was something like a large cross stitch pattern but to keep it all straight on this scale was mind boggling!

The weavers use the traditional Turkish double knot, twisting and tying each off between two warps (vertical threads), then a quick slash with a small knife to cut the ends. After a line of knots is laid in, a hand-held metal hammer is pounded across, making the weave snug and tight. Finally, scissors cut threads close. And then on to the next line. A hand-knotted rug may take a year — or three, or more — depending upon size and pattern.

Finally, we were ushered into a large showroom to view many beautiful pieces available for purchase. We sat on a bench along the far wall, sipping cold apple tea (‘Chelle) and Turkish beer (me) while carpet after carpet were revealed. The men rolled each out with fanfare; based on our reactions they brought others in that we might like. Periodically they cleared the floor and started over. We were encouraged to touch them, walk on them, and view them from every angle to appreciate the beauty of the designs. Such fun!

Many carpets were priced far beyond my budget (like the silk-on-silk beauty in blue, below left!) but that did not deter me. In the end, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to bring a small piece of Turkey home with me. When the deal was done, according to their practice, I signed a reverse corner of the carpet. The sales manager took our picture sitting on the carpet. When the carpet arrives at my home, my signature and this photograph will prove this is the carpet I selected in the showroom. I asked ‘Chelle to sign the other corner as a reminder that we shared this wonderful and eventful day in Turkey.

I can’t wait for my Hereke carpet to arrive! Now, to prepare the room. I’ve been looking for a good excuse to paint and update anyway. ;=)

~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.

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.

house of mary

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.

20120819-132958.jpg

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!

~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.

angel eyes

One of the things I loved about Turkey* were the angel eyes — unique and artful variations of blue-on-white-on-blue ornaments that adorn just about everything. They are hung from windows and posts, woven into fabrics and intricate carpet designs, integrated into exquisite pottery, dangled from clothing, embedded in patios and walkways underfoot, and presented on tiny pins to patrons and visitors. Angel eyes are everywhere!

Some might conclude this is the height of superstition. Perhaps there is something to that — if you believe an ornament can ward off evil? I do not. To me they are welcome reminders of a powerful presence, a host of unseen guardians, created to serve us. I have no compunction about calling upon my heavenly helpers.

Scripture tells us that angels guard, protect, and minister to God’s people.** All too often, it seems, I don’t know how to pray for someone experiencing unbearable pain, deep distress, or imminent danger. But I do know to pray for God’s mighty angels to surround on every side, to minister peace and healing, to protect.

I’d love to discover an ability to look back through a portal in time to see the heavenly host in action. In those very moments when disaster was averted or peace reined supreme, when … my girlfriend and I hid in a ditch; my young son ran off onto perilously thin ice; my daughter was slipping out of our grip far above the amusement park pavement; my youngest son was overcome with croup, laboring to breathe; my husband inhaled deadly gas; my children and I were centimeters from a high-speed collision; my father passed over … they were there, wings outstretched. I can’t prove it but I know it. Indeed, faith requires willingness to make that leap, to find evidence in things unseen.(Hebrews 11:1)

I purchased a large angel eye in Turkey. It hangs in my kitchen window and catches the morning light just right. I love this bright blue reminder of a beautiful blessing and God’s provision in a heavenly array, dispatched at his command. My angel eye is a daily reminder to pray for those who need assistance. It’s also a reminder to say, “thank you” for guardian angels — mine and yours.

~René Morley

**Psalm 34:7 & 91:1; Hebrews 1:14

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.