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On the 'House of Mary' at Ephesus

What are we as Orthodox to think of the Roman Catholic pilgrimages to 'The House of Mary' near Ephesus in Turkey?

J.T., London

Ephesus was of course an early Orthodox centre, to wit the letter of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Orthodox there. Moreover, after the Dormition of the Mother of God in Jerusalem, St John the Theologian went to live in Ephesus, as is recorded, for instance, by St Irenaeus of Lyon and the historian Eusebius, and he reposed there. It is also true that there was an ancient church in Ephesus dedicated to the Mother of God, as is mentioned at the Third Oecumenical Council in Ephesus in 431. As to whether St John had himself dedicated this church to the Mother of God, and as to where St John actually lived in Ephesus, we can only speculate. Certainly, very ancient local tradition in Ephesus is quite clear - her Dormition took place in Jerusalem, not in Ephesus.

The whole story of 'Mary's house' in Ephesus begins in the early nineteenth century with the 'visions' of the German Anna-Katherina Emmerich concerning the 'House of the Virgin'. At the end of the nineteenth century, a French Catholic priest who was investigating these 'visions', discovered a ruined building near Ephesus, which local Orthodox referred to as 'The chapel of the All Holy', and where they made an annual pilgrimage every 28 August. Around this the French priest invented the legend that this was the house where the Mother of God had lived and fallen asleep!

Although monks at the local Orthodox monastery at nearby Degirmendere told the Catholics quite specifically that the Mother of God had fallen asleep in Jerusalem, within a few years, in 1896, the first ever Catholic pilgrimage was begun there by French Catholics. All this was despite the very ancient tradition of the Church that the Mother of God lived and fell asleep in Jerusalem, with no record at all of her ever visiting Ephesus. The whole story seems to be a case of modern Roman Catholicism claiming the Mother of God for itself, rather than leaving her to Orthodoxy on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. We should remember that this whole invention came about after the promulgation of the Immaculate Conception and other Catholic doctrinal novelties of the nineteenth and, later, twentieth centuries.

During the early part of the twentieth century, the Catholics abandoned their myth and the 'house of Mary' fell into ruin again. In 1929 a visiting Catholic priest found the floor covered in cow dung. However, the promulgation in Rome in 1950 of the Assumption was followed by a new Catholic pilgrimage. The decision by the businesslike Turkish authorities to build a road leading to 'the house of Mary' and exploit the tourist potential tells the rest of the story.

The ruin was done up again and made into a Catholic chapel. This was despite the view of an Italian archaeologist in 1967 (and several others before and since, including at least one expert Catholic priest) that the so-called 'house of Mary' was a thirteenth-century Turkish dwelling. in 1967 Pope Paul VI visited and the new shrine was staffed by Capuchin friars. In 1979 Pope John-Paul II visited and celebrated mass in front of tourists. By 1988 over one million Catholic pilgrims were visiting the restored ruin per year. Since the whole story belongs to modern Roman Catholic mythology and not local Tradition, this pilgrimage is not something that Orthodox should participate in.

(From Orthodox England, Vol. 9, No 4)


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