Ephesus…the City of John and Paul…

…not Lennon and McCartney.

It is the first place I’ve been to, whose name is explicitly mentioned in the Bible. Saint Paul lived here, preached here, and wrote a letter to its residents. Saint John the Apostle wrote about it as one of the seven churches of Asia in his “Book of Revelations“, and he is believed to have lived here as well, together with Mary the mother Jesus, who was entrusted to his care after Jesus’ death.

I’ve said before that Turkey is like a continent the size of Texas, because despite the modest land area, the scenery varies so much from one part to another. We started from Istanbul, which looks like any western cosmopolitan city but with lots of minarets and a dash of oriental flair. We then went on to Cappadocia, with its steppe environment. And then now, we come to Ephesus which looks like…ancient Greece.

The ancient Greek world was not confined to the borders of the present day Republic of Greece, but included practically the entire coast of the Aegean. Cities of Greek antiquity such as Smyrna, Troy and yes, Ephesus, are now part the current Turkish Republic.

But perhaps Ephesus’ golden age came when they eventually became part of the Roman Republic, later on Empire. In those times, the Roman Empire was the world’s foremost economic power, and Ephesus benefited greatly when it became a Roman city. Its harbor attracted trade, and it became one of the most prosperous cities in the East. Wealth grew, and so did education. The Library of Celsus in Ephesus rivaled the libraries of other major Roman cities like Alexandria. It has its grand amphitheater, and a smaller theater where the city’s senate met. It had distinctive administrative, commercial and residential areas.

It was also during the Roman era when St. Paul preached in the city’s agora (market), living there for a couple of years before he was sent to prison, at a time when Christianity was still considered a threat by the Romans. St John the Apostle is believed to have moved here as well after Christ’s ascension to heaven.

But, like the rest of the Roman Empire, nothing lasts forever. Natural forces, like siltation from a nearby river, dried up Ephesus’s harbor, and the city eventually lost its economic significance, and was eventually abandoned. Now all that’s left are the ruins of the once grand city.

Up on a hill right next to Ephesus is the house where Mary, the mother of Jesus, is believed to have lived after his death. The Turkish call the place “Meryem Ana Evi”, and it’s one of the few places on Earth that are holy to both Christians (Catholics in particular) and Moslems alike (her son Jesus being a prophet of Allah in the Quran). Though there is no direct archeological evidence supporting Mary’s residence here, the belief rests on a couple of things. One, there is evidence that Saint John the Apostle did reside in the area after Jesus’ death, and it is a widely held belief that he brought Mother Mary with him. Second, in the early 19th century, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, a German nun, had visions of Mother Mary’s house in Asia Minor, and her visions were published in a book after her death. When priests were sent to investigate later on, they found the house exactly matching Blessed Anne Catherine’s description.

The complex includes the small house where she was thought to have lived. There is also a holy water fountain, and a “wishing wall”, where the faithful can write down their prayers.

*We were in Ephesus November 2017.

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