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.