The House of Mary

In Ephesus, Turkey, there is a small stone structure set high on a hill. This small structure is believed to be the place where Mary lived her final earthly days with the Apostle John. This tradition is partially based on the account from the Gospels when Jesus calls out to John from the cross to ask him to care for his mother. Christian tradition has taken these words to mean that John quite literally took Mary into his own home and cared for her until her dying day.

According to Christian tradition, John traveled to Ephesus after the death of Christ. It was very likely in this place that he made his home. Also, some say that the first known church dedicated to the Virgin Mary was located in Ephesus, and during the first few centuries of Christianity, churches were only named after saints in cities where that saint had personally resided. It is also notable that the most significant church council related to the title of the Virgin Mary was held at Ephesus in 431, where the name Theotokos was formally recognized as a proper way to refer to the Virgin Mary and to preserve the practice of venerating her.

Rediscovering the House of Mary

Another interesting story related to this house is that some Roman Catholic priests were led to this very site (which was then in ruins) through the revelations of a German Roman Catholic nun, Sister Catherine Anne Emmerich, who both experienced the stigmata and reported having visions of the Virgin Mary in which the exact location of the house at Ephesus was described. When the priests followed the directions set forth by the Roman Catholic nun, they quickly discovered a small stone building in the exact location and formation she had described.

discussion question

Do both Muslims and Christians use the term pilgrimage to mean the same thing?

Although in this book the term pilgrimage is used, Muslims reserve that word for the great hajj — the journey to Mecca. They generally wouldn't feel comfortable with the more general definition of pilgrimage used here.

This house has been preserved and is currently under the care of the Franciscans, a Roman Catholic order, and it receives more than a half a million visitors annually. Many of these visitors are Muslim, who come to the shrine to pray and to drink from the well there, which many believe contains healing properties.

Christian and Muslim Pilgrimage

Pilgrims often like to leave something of themselves behind at holy pilgrimage sites to show that they have visited a place personally. In many cases, pilgrims will leave behind a small swath of cloth. At the House of Mary, though, there is no place to attach pieces of cloth, so thousands of pieces of chewing gum have been left behind by those who have prayed at the well.

The House of Mary in Ephesus is a very tangible reminder that Mary plays an important role in both Christianity and Islam. Not only do more Muslims visit this holy site than any other religious group, there is also a small chapel that is part of the house and is reserved for Muslim prayer.

The image of Christians and Muslims praying beside each other at this holy site has profound implications for those who only see the areas where Islam and Christianity diverge, who focus on the very real tensions between the two religions without taking note of the authentic common ground. If there is any common ground within Christianity and Islam, a place of peace and prayer amid the tensions of our modern world it is most likely to be found in Ephesus, in the house where the Virgin Mary lived as a faithful model for both religions.

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