Our Lady's House at Ephesus

by frankbeswick

A combination of mystical insights, and hard work perusing ancient documents may have found where Mary stayed during her time at Ephesus.

There has been no time in history when someone, somewhere has been persecuting the Christian church, and the persecutions started early and many Christians fled Jerusalem. Among them may have been Mary, who was under the protection of St John. If John needed to run, she would have gone with him. So started an old tradition, which is not certain, but may well be true,that Mary went to Ephesus in modern Turkey. For how long she stayed we know not, but there is a story to the discovery of what is claimed to be the site of her house.

Photo of a picture of Mary, courtesy of Uroburos.

Finding the Site

The ancient road from Jerusalem to  the Black Sea runs along the coast, and gives lovely views over the wine-dark  Mediterranean. There by the roadside stands a once neglected house. It was  architecturally  obviously well-constructed in the first century style, made of stone, though the ravages of ages had caused the roof to fall in. Three pilgrims  approach the door: one a Catholic, the other an orthodox Christian and the other a Muslim. The three greet each other, pay and enter. They are there with common purpose, to honour Mary the mother of Jesus. They are visiting a site that the local people of the area have deemed sacred for centuries, and  these locals, who claim descent from  early Christians in the area, believe that Mary was there. Reason enough to deem it sacred.  But what was Mary doing there?

The year thirty eight was a bad year for Christians. Herod Agrippa the First,, who ruled all of Palestine between thirty six AD and thirty nine, had had James the brother of John executed [a fancy name for legalized murder) and Peter had been arrested only for an angel to free him from prison and give him the opportunity to escape, but it was clear that senior members of the church were  being targeted. As  a woman Mary was not the most senior target, but she was up there with the top targets. But John the apostle was missed out from the initial arrests., giving him time to flee with the  others. The scattered Christians went to many places, taking the gospel with them. Significantly this is the year when Mary is said to have been taken to Ephesus. Why choose Ephesus?  It was only in modern day Turkey, so it was not far from Judea, where the church was based. Furthermore, there were two viable routes: going by donkey overland, but donkeys are slow and uncomfortable. Speed was of the essence, and Mary, by that time not a young woman, would not have found the ground journey easy. The other route was sea transport from Caesarea, a  sea port on the Mediterranean coast, or less conveniently, from Joppa. This would be more comfortable and faster. Furthermore, Ephesus was a town where Herod, a local ruler In Palestine, had no authority, and where the crowds in what was a pagan metropolis, would have given the fugitive Christians cover. Ephesus it was.

The house is a construction pretty standard for that period, well-situated, not in the city of Ephesus, which was sometimes disorderly, but in the countryside outside the city, about four miles from the town, enough to provide a quiet place where the Christians could get on with their worship.

 The persecution did not last long. In 44 Herod died suddenly and the Roman procurator who took over had no interest in persecution. Did Mary return home? We do not know. But there is a tradition that she died at Jerusalem.


Locating the house.

The quest did not begin until the experiences of Anne Catherine Emerich, a chronically sick mystic, nun and stigmatist, one who manifested the wounds of Christ in her body. She dwelt in Germany in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Anne was blessed with mystical visions of the time approaching Jesus' passion and Mary's life afterwards. One was of the house at Ephesus that John constructed for Mary. But the vision provided details from which investigators could work out where the house was. Initially no one pieced the details together or even tried until a scholar, Clemens Brentano, became Anne's Secretary, attending her daily for five years until her death in 1824. .He first got the idea of determining whether the house could be found. He then dedicated himself to the search. To do so he accumulated many copies of ancient travel guides, maps and documents pertinent to the quest and began some deep study.

Brentano published a book in 1852 based on his researches, but it did not inspire many and was not a best seller, to put it mildly. But a priest, Abbe Gouyet, did read the book and set out to locate the property, if it was still locatable. Using clues in the book he eventually located the house which he sought. He ascertained that the local people had for centuries associated it with Mary and called it the virgin's doorway, and celebrating there on the feast of Mary's assumption into heaven. He  ascertained that it had been used as a Christian shrine.

The shrine gained more recognition when two priests from the Lazarist order, Fathers Poulin  and Jung,  began to research it and the Vatican took an interest. A rather efficient and determined nun, Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancy was appointed as foundress of the religious institution that the site became. She set out to organize the site, purchasing the property and getting it into good condition. She held this role from 1891 until her death in 1915.

The Vatican takes as ever a cautious view of the historicity of the shrine, refusing to make unjustifiable historical claims, but it accepts the positive value of the cultus that has arisen around the site. In its favour there have been no dubious miraculous claims or abuses associated with the site, and it has papal approval,as is evinced by papal visits.




Description of the House

I have been unable to access a suitable picture of the house and the only one was inadequate and unduly expensive, so I  will have  to use only written description. It is a  stone edifice built around a roughly square courtyard and has a flat roof.  There is a ground floor and a single storey above it.The style is definitely first century and has strong resemblance to many buildings of the area in which it is situated. Like many buildings it has been modified over the centuries and has been well-tended over the ages, testimony  to the fact that it was in use as a community religious facility. The falling in of the  roof was a more recent event and has been repaired. The inside is like many houses of the period built with the intention of providing shade in the Turkish sunshine. Archaeologists have investigated the structure and discovered that there were several stages of construction with the original first century structure augmented over the centuries. 

The whole site is on a hilly slope that falls to the coast and the ruins of Ephesus just over four miles away. It is not a heavily populated area, for it is on an uneven hillside and is probably territory for livestock farming, probably of sheep and goats. There is a village nearby. 

There are some facilities attached to the house. A garden was at some point added to the building, though what plants were grown there is impossible to say, but probably vegetable crops, but there is no trace of a vineyard. A major religious facility attached to the house is a large baptismal pool, so it was at some time in the past the site of significant worship and was possibly the religious focus  of Christian life in the vicinity. As a religious site it had the advantage of being near a road, allowing access from Ephesus,  while having space for larger groups of Christians to congregate. There is access to a spring, a vital facility if there were residents there. There is some evidence that a pipe ran from the spring to Mary's bedroom. 

Going into the house, it is clear  that it was used for dual use, house plus religious facility. One reasonably spacious room, is known as the Virgin Mary's bedroom. But the larger residential   space as you enter from the front door functions as a chapel. There is an altar against the back wall, showing that the building was used for Eucharistic celebrations,  and there is a statue of Mary in the centre of the altar area..  The date of the statue is not clearly known. 

How this charming little edifice has survived the ravages of  time and the blood-stained wars of the  Middle East  is a wonder indeed. But the building reflects the character of Mary: simple, yet profound, quiet, enduring and wise. How long she stayed at this hilly sanctuary we know not. But it must have held a special place in her heart.


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Updated: 07/18/2023, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 08/11/2023

Almost certainly it is true. His sons would have helped him.Joseph had other sons who are mentioned in the gospel John of Damascus says that Joseph was a widower with children

DerdriuMarriner on 08/11/2023

Farmers' markets here sometimes have Christian book sellers. I remember seeing a Vacation Bible School-type story book that had Jesus Christ sitting at a table that Saint Joseph had made for his family.

Would that be an accurate home-life indicator, that Jesus Christ and Saint Joseph, even as wooden yoke-makers for oxen, would have made their own family furniture?

frankbeswick on 08/11/2023

About Mary's parents we know nothing other than their names Mary would have had some knowledge of their work, but she would have learned female I skills from her mother, as was the custom then.

DerdriuMarriner on 08/10/2023

This, western-pond side tends toward daughters in car-work, construction and farming families being adequately if not competitively proficient with sons in those regards.

What was Anne's father's work and what was Joachim's work? Would Our Lady Mary have had some helpful awareness of their work and of Saint Joseph's?

frankbeswick on 08/09/2023

Not really, halters were not the classiest of goods, they were routine farm goods.

DerdriuMarriner on 08/09/2023

That's interesting about wooden halter-making for oxen.

Would that have been considered an especially skilled aspect of working with wood?

frankbeswick on 08/09/2023

No. There was a Palestinian tradition, but I cannot source it, maybe Eusebius, that the family made wooden halters for oxen

DerdriuMarriner on 08/08/2023

Your explanation of tecton as brick- or stone-builder or woodworker caused me to recall a book that I read either in the Salt Lake City Family History Library or the Salt Lake City Public Library.

That book's author suggested that Jesus Christ and Saint Joseph might have been stone-workers instead of carpenters.

That was something that I never had come across before (nor have I since). Would there be any tradition of the two Holy Family members as stonemasons?

frankbeswick on 08/07/2023

The Teton was,I believe, a wòdworker and builder using stone or brick.

DerdriuMarriner on 08/07/2023

The Greek word τέκτων has been coming to mind lately as I ponder non-wood versus wood construction.

There's somewhat of an array of possible translations. Why is it that we think of Jesus Christ and Saint Joseph as carpenters? And would the former have been exactly the same kind of craftsman as the latter? Or would there have been some leeway, such as one being a home-builder and the other a cabinet-maker?

(My Dutch maternal great-grandfather was an architect in his eastern-pond homeland even as he worked ultimately as a successful cabinet-maker here on this, western-pond side.)

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