Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Magnificat - Mary's House in Ephesus, Turkey

The ferocious wildfires in Maui have destroyed most of Lahaina, but miraculously, the Maria Lanakila Church remains standing. This event reminds me of how Mary's House was spared during a 2006 fire  in Ephesus that wiped out 1,200 hectares of forest but stopped just meters away from Mary's House. 

I'm sharing my writeup as a testament of Mary's greatness. This is part of MAGNIFICAT: MAMA MARY'S PILGRIM SITES, a book I edited. The publisher Anvil has some copies online, and you can also find it in ebook form (Kindle). 

Mother Mary, pray for us!


Cecilia Manguerra Brainard


            IN 2006, my husband and I were on a cruise to the Baltic. We had a one-day stop in the port of Kusadasi, Turkey and we took a day tour to Ephesus, where we saw the ruins of this great Roman city. We also visited the Basilica of St. John, where the traditional tomb of St. John’s was located under the central dome. Although now in ruins, the Basilica made me understand that this site was where John the Beloved and Mother Mary had settled, after Christ’s Crucifixion. I recalled how Christ had entrusted Mary to John, and John to Mary, with His words: “Behold your mother. Woman behold your son.”


            These thoughts were with me when we made our way to the House of the Virgin Mary, which was deep in a forest not far from the ruins of Ephesus. That summer, there had been a severe heat wave in all of Turkey. Our tour guide informed us that, days earlier, on August 20, a huge fire had broken out. This fire wiped out 1,200 hectares of forest; the fire spread from the bottom of the hill up the hill to where the house of Mary was. The fire destroyed everything along its path, and so the religious custodians of Mary’s House evacuated to the foothill town of Selcuk, giving up the house of Mary to the fire. Then to everyone’s surprise, the fire stopped, just a meter away from the house of Mary. Our tour guide, who was Muslim, said that people accepted this as a miracle.

            The forest where we drove through was left with blackened soil and remnants of what had been pine trees and shrubs. This was the case all the way to the parking lot. We walked to Mary’s house, which is just a small brick house, and right in back of it, we saw where the fire had stopped — just a bit over an arm’s length away. It was quite impressive because you could see the line of black ash right above the house, as if there had been a wall that stopped the flames dead on its tracks.

            Mary’s house has been restored, and despite the fact that the Catholic Church has never pronounced the authenticity of the house for lack of scientific proof, Popes Leo XIII, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, and John-Paul II had visited the site. It was Pope John-Paul II, in the 1980s, who declared the Shrine of Mary as a pilgrim site for Christians.

I was struck by the simplicity of the house: basically one room made of bricks. We stood in line to get in. Inside it was cool and dimly lit, with candles providing the primary illumination. Two nuns were singing hymns to Mary, in Latin, which I recognized and I sang with them. At the end of the room was an altar, also very simple. We turned right, and we were outside.  That was all; this was not a grand basilica, but a simple place of prayer.

            Outside, there was a tap where you could get spring water coming from under the house. We dumped our bottled drinking water and used the plastic bottles to collect the holy water, water which is believed to have healing properties.

            Not far from the holy water was a sight that impressed me most of all. It was a wall with countless pieces of paper and cloth which had been tied to the wall. Called a Prayer Wall, these prayers were hopefully placed there, not only by Catholics, but by Muslims, who to my surprise love and venerate Mary. They honor her as the mother of one of their prophets. Miriam is how they called her in Turkey. When we had lunch, a busy waiter stopped dead in his tracks, right in front of me, and he gawked at my pendant with the Byzantine image of Mary; in a tone of affection he said, “Ah, Miriam!”

            I had the chance to visit Mary’s House again in 2009. There were diggings in front of the House, where they were uncovering the foundations of a church, and this time there was a shop selling rosaries and other religious items. In 2006, there had been no such a shop.

            During these visits to Mary’s House, I didn’t have time to pray at length; I rushed into her House, got holy water, and slipped in my scribbled requests in the Prayer Wall; but this Marian site has become one of my favorites. It was not crowded as Lourdes and other popular Marian sites are, certainly not as commercial as these places are. In fact, I was surprised at how sparse the number of visitors at Mary’s house was – mostly bussed-in tourists, some local Muslim visitors. But that too was a blessing because the serenity and simplicity of the place was special. I felt I was visiting a simple but cozy house, not a huge basilica overwhelmed with chandeliers and ornate altars.

My visits to the house of Mary have allowed me to imagine Mary as an older woman, one whose Son has already died, and who is in a new place with her new son, John. I can see her in that small house, making flat bread, drawing water from the well, walking to the market, helping people. Perhaps because I myself am no longer young, I can imagine Mary with gray hair, with aches and pains. I imagine her reminiscing of her beloved Son and the events that led to the Crucifixion, the confusion that followed, and later, the boat trip across the Mediterranean to get to Ephesus. This simple shrine allows me to be closer to Mary in this way.

tags: Marian sites, Maui wild fires, Hawaii fire, Mama Mary

Read also:

Magnificat - Lahaina's Maria Lanakila Catholic Church Survived Maui Fires

Mama Mary Answered My Prayers by Lynley Ocampo 

Mary is With Us - Our Lady of Lourdes, France by Brian Ascalon Roley

A Mystical Experience With Our Lady by Linda Yamamoto 

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