I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Thursday, December 28, 2023

House of the Virgin Mary

Filling the gap in the itinerary after losing three stops in Egypt has been a kind of Mediterranean hopscotch. We were in Crete for one day, then back to Nafplion on the mainland. Christmas was a sea day. Yesterday we were in Turkey, and had to turn our clocks ahead an hour. Today we're in Rhodes, and had to turn them back. Friday, we're back in Crete.

The Turkey stop, in Kuşadasi, wasn't on the original itinerary, and though it wasn't really a substitute for the Valley of the Kings, it did mean that I got to see Ephesus. But the first stop of the morning was in the hills above Ephesus, at the house of the Virgin Mary. Now whether Mary ever actually came to Asia Minor, and lived in this particular house, I have my doubts. But the early start, and grogginess from the time change, combined with a sky worthy of a 1950's Cinemascope epic, made me somewhat less skeptical than usual.

Well, the Cinemascope visions collapsed pretty quickly in the face of those Christmas lights. This is a site that is considered sacred by millions of people, and it looked like the library in a small town at Christmas. No photos are allowed inside but there's really nothing to see—a small sort of chapel with no seating, and a partial fresco in the tiny adjoining room where tradition has it that Mary slept.

It's mostly reconstruction, of course—there's a red line painted on the walls, which you can't really see in this picture, that marks where the original walls end and the reconstruction begins. According to Wikipedia, “the four-walled, roofless ruin had been venerated for a long time by members of the mountain village of Şirince, 17 km (11 mi) distant, who were descended from the early Christians of Ephesus.” (I won't attempt to summarize how the house was identified through the visions of a German nun, or what exactly the Catholic Church officially believes, but it's all in the Wikipedia article.) According to the tradition, Jesus commended his mother to the care of Saint John as he was dying on the cross, and John eventually brought her with him to Ephesus.

I've been lucky enough to visit many holy sites in my lifetime, and have often been conscious of an atmosphere of reverence, a sense of walking on sacred ground, even if the local gods aren't mine. But not here.

I bought a candle anyway, and lit it for my mom, because that would have made her happy.

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