“ We will have to complete our visit to Meryamana by this evening . Tomorrow, the cruise ships will be pulling into the harbours of Izmir and Kusadasi; there could be six thousand people trying to get in and that will delay our tour of Ephesus.” So said Polat, our Turkish guide, though we had expected to crash at our hotel from the long drive in from Pamukkale.
As it happened, it was early evening when we arrived at this famous and enigmatic dwelling. Preparing us for the destination was a beautiful statue of this fabled lady, the Virgin Mary, halfway up to her mountain home.
Meryamana, the home of Mary, Mother of Jesus, is a location rooted in belief and circumstantial evidence. Jesus Christ was said to have commended his mother to his favourite disciple John whose assigned apostolate was Roman Asia , corresponding to present Turkey. Ephesus in the vicinity of Meryamana was said to have been the seat of his ministry. It was here that the first Council of the Church took place.
In the 1950’s a crippled German nun, Anna Katerina Emmerich had visions about Mary’s final resting place. The basilica of Mary was in Ephesus, and the early Church had a tradition of naming basilicas in the place associated with the personality. The valley below echoed with legends of this location.
Subsequently, three Popes visited the place which has since become a thriving tourist destination. One found the shrine to be a 7th century superstructure above the simple 1st century home in which one of history’s most venerated mother figures lived. Tourists of various faiths write out their wishes in the hope of fulfilment. It is doubtless in itself a beautiful and tranquil spot, shaded by ancient olive groves, with a view of the ageless Aegean sea from the lofty mountain top. Beautiful replicas of Byzantine art and religious artifacts are sold in adjoining shops.
As we descend from this mountain location, the shimmering silver of the Aegean sea dazzles the eye. I mused that it was here that Jason might have sailed with his adventurous Argonauts, that the epic battles of the Trojan war were fought, and Ulysses sailed to his adventures with Cyclopes and Sirens. Very definitely a land of myth and legend, I surmised.
Significantly this was an area with a flourishing cult of the Mother Goddess. The following day we would visit Ephesus( in advance of the invading hordes of cruise ships) and took in its very intriguing sights. Importantly, the Temple of Diana/ Artemis at Ephesus was one of the nine wonders of the ancient world, whose ruins we took in from the higher elevation of St.John’s Basilica. The Ephesus museum was full of interesting statues of this ancient Goddess; her sculptures were embedded with multiple breast/ egglike objects. This projected the need of the populace to be nurtured and provided for- food security being an important pre-occupation of early socieities. Apollo’s twin and a virgin huntress in Greek mythology, Artemis was fused with the Anatolian Goddess Kybele as a deity unique to this Ionian city. The Amazons, legendary women warriors of the Trojan war were believed to have commenced the cult of her worship. The Artemision was a famously elaborate fertility festival of the ancient world.
Visiting one of the amphitheatres in Ephesus, one was informed that St Paul had preached there. He had encountered resistance in Ephesus with artisans, upset that their sales of Artemis statues would be affected by the new Christian teaching.
Faith is a wonderfully flexible thing, capable of both continuity and change. Some time later, statues of the Virgin Mary would replace those of the fertility goddess, heralding the emergence of an enduring new icon. The ancient pilgrimage site of the Temple of Artemis- Diana would find in its vicinity a compelling new place of devotion- Meryamana.