01 August 2009

Meryem Ana Evi

The mystery of Meryem Ana Evi or Mother Mary’s House near the city of Ephesus remains unsolved to this very day. One of the criticisms about Catholic and Orthodox Christianity is that too much attention is given to Mary the Mother of God while Scripture only offers a few morsels about our Lady. But Catholic and Orthodox Christianity is not based on Scripture alone, but Tradition as well.

There was much persecution in early Christianity making it logical to deduce that great efforts were made, certainly among the apostles, but by other Christians as well to protect Mary and keep her out of the spotlight. Saint Paul in his Letter to the Galatians speaks of Jesus as being “born of a woman” (4:4). In the city of Ephesus was Artemis the goddess of that city; and perhaps Saint Paul, who was no stranger to Ephesus, was deliberately not mentioning Mary by name to avoid any sort of comparison and avoid that city’s temptation to deify Mary. If Christ was being evangelized among the apostles as God born of a woman, then surely curiosity would want to know more about the “woman” – and the apostles likely tried to keep our Lady’s life hidden as much as possible.

The case for our Blessed Mother living out her remaining years in Ephesus begins with a Scripture passage from Saint John’s Gospel:

“Near the Cross of Jesus stood His Mother, His Mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing His Mother standing next to the disciple He loved, Jesus said to His Mother: ‘Woman, behold your Son.’ Then to the disciple He said: ‘Behold your Mother.’ And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home” (John 19:25-27).

Tradition suggests that Saint John’s Gospel was written in Ephesus. If the apostle John was faithful to what his own Gospel says in the aforementioned passage, then Mary accompanied him to Ephesus, removing her from what was a persecuting and violent city of Jerusalem. John likely had a house built for her, a safe haven, while he was absent due to his apostolic journeys.

In 42 A.D. King Agrippa III came to power in Jerusalem. He was the grandson of the one who ordered the massacre of the Holy Innocents, and the son of the king who beheaded Saint John the Baptist. And now Agrippa III, on his part, was responsible for the death of Saint James, the brother of Saint John the Evangelist; and he also ordered the arrest of Saint Peter. During this very chaotic time, Christians were fleeing Jerusalem and heading for Judea and Samaria. It was only five years prior that Saint Stephen was stoned to death in the Palestinian capital. As the apostles themselves were leaving Palestine, surely they would not have left behind the Mother of God to fend for herself; and Scripture suggests that John was charged with her care.

The fourth century historian, Eusebius, very directly said that during this time of persecution, Saint John went to Asia; and he desiring to fulfill Christ’s last wishes must’ve have taken Mary with him for her own peace and safety.

John was given the title of “Apostle of Asia,” a title which could have been easily given to Saint Paul since he spent several years there himself. In 50 A.D. Paul and Silas passed through the cities of Phrygia and Galatia. Both of these are located north of the city of Ephesus. In Scripture we are told that as they passed through Phrygia and Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach in Asia (cf. Acts 16:6). Interesting is that the Roman province of Asia was the city of Ephesus. It was Saint John Chrysostom who tells us that the apostle John was already in that region, establishing the Church there, and this is why Paul and Silas were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach there.

Irenaeus of Lyon, who personally knew Polycarp, a disciple of Saint John, gives witness to the belief that John’s Gospel was written in Ephesus. The second century writing to Pope Victor by Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus, mentions that the tomb of Saint John the Evangelist is located in Ephesus. And again, Eusebius stated that when the apostles were fleeing Jerusalem, John came to Asia and died in Ephesus.

The obvious question that follows about what Saint John did is: Why is Mary never mentioned as being with him?

Saint Jerome, who was a great authority on the subject of Jerusalem, never mentions Mary’s death as having occurred in the Holy City of Jerusalem. During Jerome’s day, however, there was already a church dedicated to our Lady which was located in Ephesus. This dedication is revealed to us first by Cyril of Alexandria and then a dozen times in the acts of the third ecumenical Council which took place in Ephesus. What is interesting about this is that in the early centuries of the Church, a church was dedicated to a saint only if that saint had been either martyred there or lived out their remaining time there. Thus a church dedicated to Mary in Ephesus suggests that she died there.

In the Book of the Miracles by Gregory of Tours (538-594) is the following passage: “On the summit of a mountain near Ephesus there are four walls without a roof. John lived within these walls.”

The residents of Kirkince, a village near what is thought today to be Mary’s House, believed that our Lady lived in Ephesus. Each year on the Feast of the Assumption they made a pilgrimage to what was known then as “Panaya Kapulu” or “Chapel of the All Holy” which is now Meryem Ana Evi. It was their belief that the Blessed Mother was taken to heaven from there. Not that this is proof of anything, but it is strange that they would cling to this belief when their own Orthodox faith taught that Mary spent her remaining time in Jerusalem. These villagers are descendants of the early Christians of Ephesus who adopted the Turkish language but kept the traditions that were handed down; and one of those traditions is that Mary lived out her remaining years in Ephesus. This was a tradition that was very serious to them because their annual pilgrimage to the Chapel of the All Holy was a five hour walk over mountainous terrain.

In 1891 the remains of the house described in the visions of Anna Katharina Emmerich were discovered. On that expedition was Father Eugene Poulin; and he said this about the tradition of the villagers of Kirkince: “They didn’t invent it. They did not get it from their neighbors, nor from the Orthodox Church. They say it has been handed down from generations and they should know better than anyone else.”