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Monday, June 11, 2012

Mary's House


Is this really the house where the Mother of God spent Her last years? Like so many things, it all boils down to a matter of faith. Although I work hard to contain my cynicism, faith isn’t my strong suit. But I am painfully sentimental and the story of Jesus is a remarkably good one, as well it should be after thousands of years of embellishment.


You might be surprised to learn that the House of Mary is said to be in Turkey; I know I was. This all began in Germany with the 19th century bedridden nun Anne Catherine Emmerich. She had experienced a number of visions, including the description of a house the Apostle John, to whom Jesus is said to have entrusted His Mother before His crucifixion, had built for Mary. John is known to have traveled to Ephesus in modern day Turkey, where he lived out his life. It is assumed he followed Jesus’ directive and brought Mary along with him. Emmerich’s visions were published in 1852. This excerpt is from Wikipedia:



Mary did not live in Ephesus itself, but in the country near it. Mary's dwelling was on a hill to the left of the road from Jerusalem, some three and half hours from Ephesus. This hill slopes steeply towards Ephesus; the city, as one approaches it from the southeast seems to lie on rising ground.... Narrow paths lead southwards to a hill near the top of which is an uneven plateau, some half hour's journey….



Emmerich also described the details of the house: that it was built with rectangular stones, that the windows were high up near the flat roof and that it consisted of two parts with a hearth at the center of the house. She further described the location of the doors, the shape of the chimney, etc.


The house was discovered in the 19th century by following the descriptions reported

in these visions, and just about every pope since then has made a pilgrimage to the spot and proclaimed it a holy place of veneration. But is it Mary’s house? It dates from the right era, but where’s the proof demanded by Doubting Thomases like me?


So why was I here on this mountain top, staring at something that, for me, carried as much spiritual significance as Disneyland—a place said to have been inhabited by a woman I wasn’t sure existed, who was said to have given birth to a son whose true purpose and identity has caused so much confusion and conflict in the world? I was here because this was the spot that had propelled Mrs. Chatterbox to Turkey, the place she’d wanted to visit most.


I snapped a few pictures of the house, and turned around to look at my wife. She was crying. “Are you alright?” I asked clumsily. I was worried we’d come all this way and she was disappointed, the site not having lived up to her expectations. Had she come to realize that this probably wasn’t the place where the Mother of God had lived out her life?


“I’m okay,” she said, swiping away the tears with the back of her hand.


“It’s a beautiful setting,” I admitted, a theological discussion taking form in my mind. But theology was the last thing on her mind.


“I miss my parents, and CJ,” she said. Mrs. Chatterbox’s folks had passed away a decade earlier, and our son was home, thousands of miles away.


My wife smiled at me, and something ineffable in her eyes made me realize that at the heart of Christianity is a simple concept—family. Maybe Mary of Nazareth didn’t live out Her days here. To my wife this hardly mattered. Countless other mothers had. Beyond the hype surrounding this place there remained a basic truth—this was simply a house, a home where generations of mothers had suffered losses and tragedies just as relevant as the one that, two thousand years ago, set in motion events that would prompt people to board the tour buses racing to this mountain.


Something about this tourist trap made my eyes well up with love for my wife and son, loss for those that I have loved and lost. I took comfort in the breeze that rattled the leaves of the ancient trees surrounding us. Sentimental—absolutely, but I felt a presence. Mary, are you here?


Cynic that I am, for a moment I believed She was.

31 comments:

  1. I would only believe it if "Mary wuz here" was carved in a rafter somewhere. But it is a good reminder of the power of fiction.

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  2. I like your honesty. I am a woman of faith and believe that Mary and Jesus walked the earth, but I think it is okay to have doubts and to search for the truth. I would live to travel to Turkey someday.

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  3. Missed your story telling. This is another very good one on several levels. Hope you had a great trip. Welcome back.

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  4. Religion is a private thing. Each believing what they believe and left alone by all those that may not agree. If we could achieve that this world would be a lot more peaceful.

    Have a terrific day. :)

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  5. when my daughter left to study abroad the thing she was most worried about was the wt of her suitcase...she kept weighing it to be sure she wasn't over...right before she left I tucked in this book by Anne Catherine Emmerich. I knew my daughter would never throw the book out so had to take it with her wherever she went on her travels..
    I think you are way more Catholic than you realize, or admit.

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  6. What a wonderful story, Mr. Chatterbox! It had a great emotional hook, a surprise revelation, and a profound resolution. Fantastic.

    I'd take issue, though, with the "after thousands of years of embellishment." The source material for Mark's gospel, the earliest gospel written, is conservatively dated to within nine years of Jesus' crucifixion by both skeptical and believing textual critics. It was disseminated among the apostles, most notably Peter, while well alive. And, Mark's narrative presented in Bible now, is accurate, with exception of Mark 16:9-20, is wholly accurate to the earliest copies. Read gnostic gospels like the Gospel of Thomas and Mary Magdalene, written 100 to 300 years afterward, for examples of embellishment.

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  7. Your post brought tears to my eyes..I don't venerate Mary but I do believe with all my heart that Jesus is the son of God.

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  8. Excellent post, I must confess I to have a very large cynicism in relation to religious dogma, but the truth is eternal love cannot be limited by one's believes it simply is.

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  9. What a beautiful story. Give Mrs. C my thanks for letting you share what was obviously a very personal and special moment for her. Whether or not this really was where Mary lived out her days, what I think makes a place like this so sacred is that it gives a person a tangible setting to ponder the facts that He really walked this earth, she really was His mother, and He lives and loves us still. That feeling that you felt for just a moment? Go with it, Stephen. :)

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  10. That is so sweet that Mrs. Chatterbox was touched by the site of the home. I agree with her, that it really doesn't matter if a person believes that Mary was there or not. A house of that age surely has had a myriad of mothers that made their home there. I think Mrs. Chatterbox sounds like a very wise and sensitive person.

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  11. For me belief in family is essential - thanks for this post- it's lovely.

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  12. I wondered why in the hell you went to Turkey.

    Love,
    Janie

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  13. Family is very important. This comes from someone that doesn't have a family. One sibling and two parents with dementia is basically going through life on your own. A miserable existence really.

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  14. Ah, this was stunningly beautiful.

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  15. One of the best posts I've ever read. To me, it doesn't matter if Mary actually lived there. It's the idea. The idea of family should be what's most important. Not whether you could stand in the Mother of God's living room or not. It does seem plausible to me though, that Mary and maybe John took it on the lam from Judea and hoofed it to Turkey. Even though the Romans still planted their flag there, there were fewer crazy people milling about. Plus, they had better coffee.

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  16. The emotion and sense of love is palpable in your post. Great clarity, honesty and grace. Thanks for this.

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  17. Beautifully told. This was so amazing and beautiful to read!

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  18. You tell your story well and put your point across as to the truth about this site. It did bring something to your life and that is to stress the importance of family.

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  19. If Jesus were among us today, the Republicans would demand to see his birth certificate.

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  20. That's true. I think mothers often think differently about Mary. She lost her son. He was family. No matter who he was to everyone else, to Mary--he was her son. :)

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  21. Very interesting. Perhaps there is something in the place after all.

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  22. Being close to ones family is so important! I did not realsise how important until I moved to another country. I can understand your wife's reaction. It's simple things such as Mary's house that can act as a trigger

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  23. This is a lovely piece, a grand job of writing. Christian that I am, I find that the truest lingering worth of Christ's life (aside from theological concerns) comes about in expressions such as these, not because of tangible proof of any existence or place of domicile, but in the thoughts of family, love, friends, and goodness conjured by the possibilities.

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  24. Strong ties bind us all. I know I've told you before but I like Mrs. C. and you're not too shabby yourself.

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  25. I love your attitude and how you made plenty of room for Mrs. Chatterbox to have her cry...touching your soft spot out there in the middle of no where. Mary's house or not, a little magic happened there.

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  26. I love it when you said "the heart of Christianity is family." That house may or many not have been Mary's but I'd like to believe it was. To me, Mary is at the heart of all families, bringing us closer together with our own as she did with hers.

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  27. An uplifting story that, in hands of someone less skilful, could have sounded overly sentimental or even offensive to those with strong religious leanings.

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  28. I liked this anecdote although I found it very charitable towards the faith. :)

    Thanks for the visit. I will probably follow you from Reader, so I won't show up on your follower's list. You'll know when you find more comments.

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