The early morning sun beat down on me as I prayed at St. John the Evangelist’s tomb located on a hill in the ruins of the Basilica devoted to him outside the city of Ephesus, Turkey. (See photo1). John wrote his Gospel and his letters in Ephesus and he often walked through the ancient city and up the mountain to Mary’s House where she lived for the last nine years of her life, died, was buried and from where she was assumed into heaven.
I walked in the footsteps of St. John down from his Basilica and west to the City of Ephesus. I stopped there for a visit at the ruins of St. Mary’s Basilica. (See photo 2) This was the first church in the world that was dedicated to Mary. The Council of Ephesus was held there in 431. It proclaimed the first Marian dogma that Mary is the Mother of God.
After a refreshing drink of water, I continued through the magnificent ruins of Ephesus (see photo 3) and up Nightingale Mountain from which I could see the powder blue sky, the cobalt blue Aegean Sea and the Island of Samos glistening like a diamond in the sea.
As I climbed the road up the mountain, I passed a huge statue of Mary that overlooked the valley below. It seemed like an invitation to keep climbing to her House.
Three and a half hours after I left St. John’s Basilica, I reached a plateau hidden in the back of the mountaintop. As the sweat poured off my face I stood before Mary’s House nestled in the mountainside. (See photo 4). The House is made of stone and it’s been there for almost 2000 years. This House was the fountain of grace from which sprang the dogma of Mary Mother of God and the great basilicas of Ephesus dedicated to Mary and to St. John.
The Flight to Ephesus
In the year 42 AD a persecution against the new Christians broke out in Jerusalem under King Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great who slaughtered the innocent babies of Bethlehem. St. Peter was imprisoned and St. James the Great was beheaded. He was St. John’s brother. Jesus entrusted St. John to His Mother at the foot of the Cross. (See Jn 19:27).
From that day, St. John had taken Mary into his home and his heart. After the persecution broke out they fled Jerusalem and he brought her to safety far away from the reach of King Herod. John and Mary sailed on a coastal schooner from Jerusalem up the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts to the city of Ephesus. There were no cabins on these schooners. They were merchant ships and any passengers had to sleep and eat on deck with the rough sailors.
When John and Mary docked at the harbor at Ephesus they looked up the magnificent marble – paved and colonnaded Harbor Road that led to the southern end of the city and the great amphitheater built into the hillside with a seating capacity for 25,000 spectators. (See photo 5). Ephesus was the rich center of the Roman Empire in the East with a population of a quarter million. Mary temporarily lived in the city while John built her a little stone house on nearby Nightingale Mountain. A tiny Christian community lived there in peace and Mary soon joined them. Later Ephesus became the center of Christianity in the East.
Mary lived in her House tended by a maidservant. She ate vegetables grown on the plateau and drank water from a spring that is still there. Up the mountainside behind her House Mary built the first Stations of the Cross with the same distances between them as she had measured out the original ones in Jerusalem. Here she prayed and fasted for our salvation. Here she died around 48 AD at the approximate age of 63. Here she was buried and from here her body and soul were assumed into heaven.
I walked up behind her House and prayed on the path of Mary’s Stations and at the likely place of her burial and Assumption. I reflected on the history of her House that lay here in ruins for almost 1900 years little known by the world except for local venerators.
Mystical Vision of Mary’s House
In the early 1820s, Sister Catherine Emmerich saw a vision of Mary’s House. She was a German mystic nun who was bed-ridden with the stigmata. She never left Germany. She described her vision in detail to her secretary. He wrote it in a book that was read by a priest in Turkey. The priest was curious to see whether he could confirm Sister Catherine’s description from the evidence on the ground. So he went up the mountain with another priest in the summer of 1891. They followed Sister Catherine’s description of the mountain and its views and came upon the ruins of Mary s House.
To their wondrous surprise, the location of the house exactly matched Sister Catherine’s description. Later it was discovered that the foundations of the House dated to the first century. The original soot-blackened hearthstones were discovered beneath the existing floor at the exact place where Sister Catherine said that a fireplace was located. The House was restored and soon a trickle of pilgrims began to go there.
The original House was shaped like a T. The upper left top was a cloakroom that was not restored. The upper right top was Mary’s bedroom. The front measures 20’ wide by 50’ deep and the attached bedroom measures 12’x12’.
The Church Rules
Archbishop Timoni of Ismir convened a commission to investigate the discovery in the late nineteenth century. He composed a lengthy document that was signed by every member of the commission. It listed in detail the priests’ findings and showed how they conformed exactly to the descriptions of Sister Catherine. The document concluded, “The ruins are truly the remains of the House inhabited by the Virgin Mary.”
In 1981 Pope John Paul II formally re-opened the cause for the canonization of Sister Catherine. Today pilgrims of all faiths come to Mary’s House, especially Moslems. They have a great devotion to Mary who is mentioned several times in the Koran. Chapter 3 verse 40 says, “Mary, God gives the good tidings of a word from him whose name is Messiah, Jesus, Son of Mary, high honored shall she be in this world and the next, near stationed to God.”
Pope Pius XII said, “The holy House should be a Marian center which is unique throughout the world, a place where Christians and Moslems of all rites and denominations and of all nationalities can meet each other to venerate the Mother of Jesus, and make true the prophecy, ‘All Generations will call me blessed’.” (L’Osservatore Romano, April 24, 1954).
Pilgrim’s Apparition of Mary
Mrs. Elizabeth Fraser of Vermont made a pilgrimage to Mary’s House in 1959. She was temporarily living in Greece across the Aegean Sea from Turkey. During Mass in Mary’s House she prayed for her sister and her sister’s disabled child and for all those who suffer. As she did so, Mary spoke to her in locution.
Mary said, “We love them, dear. Why, the reward for suffering is so great that even if you were told you wouldn’t know. Your minds aren’t meant to know. . . .This life is no more than a short wave of the hand . . .with no more than a veil between.” Mrs. Fraser could hardly wait to go to her sister and tell her this wonderful news. She thought that she’d be happy to know how truly blessed are children who are handicapped. But she was distracted by brilliant light shining in from the left of the altar.
She looked at the light and mentally answered as if in reply to a wish of Our Lady, “All right, Mary! How do you look in your little House?” Then Our Lady appeared to her from the other side of the altar and Mrs. Fraser began a prayerful conversation with her.
Mary’s hair was black instead of light. Because of this Mrs. Fraser said, “Of course you look like this; you were Jewish.” Then she looked at her eyes. Because of having heard that Mary’s smile was the most beautiful thing about her appearance, she continued saying,” They’re wrong. It’s your cheek that is most beautiful!” Then she looked at her mouth. Her lips were parted as if she were about to speak. “No,” she said, “it’s your mouth that is most beautiful.” Mary then smiled broadly. “Oh yes,” she said, “They are right! It’s your smile that is most beautiful.” Mary looked to the altar and Mrs. Fraser said to her, “Oh, you are so pleased that we came to visit and that Mass is being said in your little House.”
Mary’s hair was loose around her forehead. She wore a sheer veil, pale in color, which seemed to be folded back on her head and to fall longer than her shoulders. Mrs. Fraser remembered so well thinking of those beautiful amber eyes, so very round and full that all creation could be seen in them. She simply couldn’t take her eyes from Mary’s face and so she was unable to describe anything else that Mary wore. (See photo 6).
While Mrs. Fraser admired Mary’s beauty, Mary continued speaking to her in locution. “Don’t worry so, dear. You aren’t meant to understand. We know! And we know that you don’t know, that is why God is so merciful. Everything is as it should be according to God’s plan. We are with them.”
Mary’s consoling message to Mrs. Fraser reminds us of her message to Blessed Juan Diego, “Listen and let it penetrate your heart, my dear little son, do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother?”
After Mass, Mrs. Fraser walked up to the altar. She was ready to remark how pretty it was with the sun shining in from the left and she looked up to see the window through which she thought the sun had shone. But there was no window. It was a solid wall!
Mary looked like Our Lady of Guadalupe who imprinted her image on Blessed Juan Diego’s cloak. She didn’t imprint her image on Mrs. Fraser’s clothing but on her mind and memory. Mrs. Fraser described the image in great detail and an image was painted of her vision according to her description.
As I entered Mary’s House to pray, I saw this image displayed in the entranceway. Mary looks like a happy Jewish mother. This Image has been accepted for veneration in the National Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC. Soon a place of veneration will be established there and a mosaic of the Image will be displayed for our veneration.
This is best summed up by a poem written by a relative of Mrs. Fraser:
By M. Laura Leddy
Little House of Our Lady
Restored and standing anew
From centuries’ devastation
On a mountainside she knew.
She came to you for haven
From a land beset with strife
Far from the stress and tumult
That threatened her holy life.
You sheltered her in her sorrows
Quietly soothing her fears
Filling the lonely hours
Throughout her declining years.
Warmth from your hearthstone fire
Its light on the walls aglow
Brought to her peace and comfort
That only she could know.
Little House she still remembers
Your gracious and loving care
And comes on light rays from heaven
To the dim lit chapel there.
Eyes have beheld her beauty
Minds have been freed from all fear.
Hearts rejoice in the message
Of Our Lady standing near.
Our Lady of Ephesus.