Travels in Turkey: House of the Virgin Mary

ON THE MENTION OF EPHESUS the impressive Roman town leaps immediately to mind. But everyone knows about that. However, there is another most intriguing place to visit in the vicinity. It is the house of the Virgin Mary. I say intriguing really because I had never known of it. One might say that is not surprising being that I am not particularly religious, but as Mary is a well known celebrity I thought her house would be ‘up there’ on the famous tourist list.


Virgin Mary’s House at Ephesus

Its discovery is an interesting tale but not, perhaps, for the sceptical ‘doubting Thomases’. The starting point, not surprisingly, is the Bible and the last mention of Mary before she disappeared. But it gives us a clue. It comes from St John, 19: 25-27:

“Now there was standing by the cross of Jesus His mother and His mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! And from that hour the disciple took her unto his own home.”

Obviously the disciple was John (as he was writing the Gospel, remember!), and he would have looked after Mary in his ‘own home’ which became Ephesus. Needless to say he would not have made a song and dance of it as Mary would have been in danger and wanted to play a low profile. However, it took until the late 19th century for someone to strike out to find where she might have lived in Ephesus. This someone was a Parisian priest, Father Julian Gouyet. Some may say this is the dodgy bit. His information came from the vision of a bedridden German nun, Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich, who had died some 60 years earlier in 1824. The visions were recorded by a German Romantic poet, Clemens von Brentano, who was at her bedside on and off from 1818 until her death.


Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich

Visions, romantic poets. I can hear alarm bells going off. But without some beliefs in the, let’s say, ambiguous, some ‘Tales of the Unknown’ would remain unknown. Look at Heinrich Schliemann’s belief in Homer’s ‘mythical’ Trojan War – it led him to discover Troy. Okay I can’t think of any more (although John Turtle Wood found Ephesus by following a description of a procession found on a stone fragment). But Emmerich was quite remarkable and there are reports that, whilst suffering from high fever, she began bleeding (stigmata) from her hands, feet and side. She had never been to Ephesus but described Mary’s house in some detail and it fits the house believed to be hers today.


Clemens von Brentano

Needless to say Brentano’s publication of Emmerich’s visions were treated with little interest. That is until 1880 when Gouyet came across them. Using Emmerich’s description, he went to Ephesus in search of the house. Indeed he found a ruin of a house and landscape at Panghia Capulu on ‘Nightingale Mountain’, just south of Ephesus, which bore a remarkable resemblance to Emmerich’s portrayal.

Gouyet returned to Paris and informed his superiors and the Vatican of his discovery. They were not so convinced and Gouyet was hushed up. Ten years later, Father Poulin, whilst visiting Smyrna in Turkey, read Emmerich’s visions and, although an anti-mystic, debated the phenomenon with his fellow priests. The sceptics remained in the majority but it was agreed to go and visit the house. This was not an easy task in those days as no road existed from Ephesus into the mountains where the house was situated. However, they were not to be disappointed and the scepticism faded. Old tombs were also in evidence, and one of the priests, Father Jung, asked his guide if he knew the whereabouts the tomb of the Virgin Mary. No, the guide replied, but he could take him to the tomb of Mary Magdalene. The priest was in his element.


Inside the House

Conservation was the next issue. Isn’t it always. How would they protect it? They had to buy it. The owner, the Bey of Avarai, was found relatively easily – somebody knew somebody who knew somebody who knew him. The money was found relatively easily – Sister Marie de Mandat Grancey, the mother Superior of the Sisters of Charity in Smyrna had always been a believer in the house and produced money (31,000 French Francs) from her own wealth. The Bey messed about a bit but eventually the deal was done in November 1892. The following month, Archbishop Timoni, on behalf of the Church, announced that the house was indeed that of the Virgin Mary.


Sister Marie de Mandat Grancey

A road was built up to the site and the building was restored in 1950. With the restoration it was discovered that the house had been restored several times before yet never been expanded on or improved. This led those concerned to believe that it had for many centuries been a unique place of Christian worship (well, maybe). In fact, it transpired that excavations in 1898-9 found many artefacts relating to religion and burials and Ottoman archives refer to the house as ‘The Three-Doored Monastery of the All Holy’.

The house itself is dated to the 5th century AD (from coins found) but its foundations go back to the 1st century AD. In August 1898, excavators working inside the house unearthed soot blackened fragments of stone of the 1st century AD – exactly where Sister Emmerich had said there was a fireplace.

The Vatican (Holy See) has taken no official position on the authenticity of the location yet, but in 1896 Pope Leo XIII declared it a pilgrimage. The first papal visit was by Pope Paul VI in 1967.  The next papal visit was by Pope John Paul II in 1979 who celebrated mass outside the house. Pope Benedict XVI went there in 2006 and treated the house as a shrine.


Next week: The Great Escape: Hollywood fact of fiction?

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

I have just given evidence at the local assize court, on behalf of a colleague of mine, Jeremiah Archer-Hatchett, who had been quite unjustly accused of removing a small collection of valuable artefacts from an excavation site. On remitting its verdict, the chairman of the jury rose and announced to the judge:

“Not guilty, your Honour, provided he returns the artefacts.”

The judge’s face reddened with anger and he went into an oratory reflecting the purpose and excellence of the justice system which should not be taken lightly. The jury were then instructed, in no uncertain terms, to return a proper verdict.

Having repaired to its room for 10 minutes, the jury reseated itself in the courthouse and the chairman arose again with the reconsidered verdict:

“Not guilty, your Honour – and he can keep the artefacts.”

Art Smth

4 thoughts on “Travels in Turkey: House of the Virgin Mary

  1. Love it!

    The Turkish people I knew when I lived in Izmir  in the 19 60s were very proud of it and I was taken to see it several times.  The Cave of the Seven Sleepers is nearby, isn’t it?

    Best wishes,


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