Monday, May 17, 2010

Mary's Place

Meet me at Mary's Place.
We're gonna have a party.
Tell me how do we get this thing started.

We began our tour of Ephesus by meeting at Mary's Place, but unlike the old Sam Cooke song and Bruce Springsteen's update, there wasn't any party. In fact, there were lots of signs saying don't do this and that, and too many people telling you to Shhh, please be quiet, this is a sacred place.

It seems there are lots of folks who believe that this little stone cottage high atop a mountain in eastern Turkey is where the Virgin Mary moved after Jesus quit this earth. From what I can tell, those folks are mostly Catholics and Turkish tour guides. There is no historical record, no facts of any sort to support this belief. Rather, their faith is based on the visions of a young German nun 1800 years after the fact and a French priest who was pretty sure he uncovered the place that matched her visions a century later.

The absence of any factual evidence has made the Catholic Church hesitate to proclaim that this really is Mary's house. But they are Catholics, after all, and it's really hard for Catholics to totally ignore the visions of young nuns no matter how little sense they make. So they had an each-way bet. They haven't said this really is Mary's house, but three different popes have now made a pilgrimage here. John Paul II's visit in the 1970s, our guide assured us, triggered a massive boom of tourists wanting to go up the mountain as well.

Frankly, I have my doubts. First, this house is very, very high up. It's a crazy winding road today that stresses the engines of the dozens of tour buses grinding their way up. I cannot imagine an older woman living up there 2000 years ago. I'm pretty sure Ephesus didn't have any pizza places doing home delivery.

Of course, it's just possible that this site was chosen as a kind of ecclesiastical heli-pad, making it the perfect launch place for a short trip when she was assumed into heaven. Or it could be that she never lived here and the young German nun wasn't having visions but delusions.

I did the maths and it really seems a stretch. If Mary was, say, 16 when she gave birth to Jesus, she would have been 49 or 50 when he was crucified. Maybe not that old today, but a few millennia ago, that was a pretty fair old age. Maybe she'd want to leave Nazareth, but it's not like they were pushing senior communities on the Dead Sea back then. And the idea of wandering all the way to eastern Turkey, settling in a port city and then choosing to live high in the mountains does seem a wee bit odd. To be fair, though, it's not exactly like Mary's life fit any patterns of normalcy back then.

Those who choose to believe that Mary lived here are well past worrying about whether the facts support their belief. They drink water from the stream here, convinced it has healing powers. They leave rags and tissues tied to a wall, believing their prayers will be answered. Did I mention they leave donations?

In my perverse nature, though, I kept thinking of British novelist Geoff Dyer who wondered where Catholics who lived in Fatima and Muslims who lived in Mecca went when they had the urge to make a pilgrimage.

From Mary's House, we went down to the real deal - the ruins of ancient Ephesus. This city was at one point the third largest city of the western world, behind Rome and Alexandria. More than a quarter million people lived here (no one knows how many more because slaves weren't included in the census), and large parts of it have been excavated and restored to give us a strong sense of what life was like back then.

LK and Shirl were here about 12 years ago, but it has changed quite a bit since then because the government and sponsors have spent millions excavating and restoring terrace houses that were still underground back then. The ruins were really interesting to me, but I know that you either love old stuff or you don't. I suspect, though, that most people would get a kick out of wandering around here - at least before summer sets in with its super-hot days.

There's not much to actually say about Ephesus that Wikipedia won't say better. I think the best way to share our day is through pictures. So far this trip I have had rotten luck getting a strong enough signal to upload pictures and videos. However, today I am confident we'll have the internet connection we need to get them online. After all, I left my hankie on the wall at Mary's house.

Postscript: Well, yes, the Lord does work in mysterious ways. However, answered prayers or not, it took 38 minutes (at 45 cents per minute!) to upload one lousy picture. And it was, of course, the one I really didn't care about at all. Maybe at a later date . . .

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