17 February 2009

Our Lady of Ephesus

It is said to be the house that Saint John the Evangelist had built for the Blessed Virgin Mary to live out her remaining time before her Assumption into heaven. It is located just a little over five and a half miles from the city of Ephesus in Turkey. Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have been among its many visitors. Pope John Paul II, in fact, proclaimed it to be a place of pilgrimage for Christians. But Christians aren’t its only visitors – Muslims, who also esteem Mary, come to this holy place.

Blessed Anna Katharina Emmerick, the subject of a previous post, had visions concerning what happened to our Blessed Mother after our Lord’s Ascension. She saw our Blessed Lady and Saint John leaving Jerusalem together before the persecution of Christians began. The paths which led to our Lady’s house near Ephesus, Blessed Anna described as “a very lonely place but has… caves where several Christian families and friends of Mary already lived.” She described our Lady’s house in Ephesus as a stone house on a mountain which Saint John built. After living there for three years, she wanted to return to Jerusalem and thus was escorted there by Saint John and Saint Peter. She became very ill in Jerusalem and her death seemed imminent. A sepulcher was prepared for her in Jerusalem, but when what was to be her final resting place was finished, the Holy Mother of God recovered from her illness and returned to Ephesus.

Behind Mary’s house are twelve Stations of the Cross which, according to Blessed Anna, the Virgin Mary herself did the measurements. The visionary has also passed on that each station was made of stone containing Hebrew letters. “These stations were all in little hollows, except the Station of Mount Calvary which was on a hill.” And finally, “the Station of the Holy Sepulcher was in a little cave over this hill.” There are many other visions from Blessed Anna concerning the house and the Stations of the Cross. Mary chose a life of stillness in this house where she lived with a young maidservant who went to get food whenever it was needed, although the amount of food our Lady ate was very little.

Blessed Anna’s description of Mary’s death is vivid. She said that as our Lady was nearing death she was on her couch with her head resting on a round cushion. The apostles who were present held a religious service in the front of the house. It was Saint Peter who was wearing vestments at the altar with the others standing behind him. New arrivals greeted those who were already there at the house with a holy embrace and then had their feet washed. After the foot washing the newcomers then approached the Blessed Mother “and greeted her with reverence.” Our Lady, knowing the end was near and only able to “say a few words” said her farewell to all who were present. “Peter gave her Holy Communion” and like our dear Lord “she died after the ninth hour.” And, “Matthew and Andrew then followed Mary's Way of the Cross until the last Station, half an hour's journey from the house, which was the cave representing the Holy Sepulcher.” They made it larger suitable for Mary’s final resting place. They also built a door so that the sepulcher could be closed off.

Women prepared our Lady’s body for burial. They brought clothes and spices to embalm her body. Saint Peter did the anointing. Blessed Anna also adds the detail that on our Lady’s “breast was laid a wreath of red, white and sky-blue flowers.” Her body was then carried to the cave where she was laid to rest.

Saint Thomas the apostle was sad and in tears because he arrived late and was unable to pay his respects. He was taken to the sepulcher and this is what Blessed Anna shares: “When they came to the cave they prostrated themselves. Thomas and his friends walked impatiently to the door. Saint John followed them. Two of them went inside after removing the bushes at the entrance of the cave and they kneeled down in front of the grave. John neared the coffin of which a part was protruding from the grave and unlacing its ties he opened the lid. When they all approached the coffin they were stunned in amazement: Mary's corpse was not in the shroud. But the shroud had remained intact. After this event the mouth of the cave containing the grave was closed and the house was turned into a chapel.”