The best way to start your adventure in Ephesus is with a little history on the area and by visiting the Church or House of the Virgin Mary. It is not just a religious site but also a big part of the history of the area and a very interesting and beautiful place to visit. The House of Virgin Mary is located on the top of Mt. Koressos, “Mount Nightingale” in Turkish, about 9 km from Ephesus. It is hidden in a lush green forest at the top of the mountain and is said to be the place where Mary may have spent her last days. That she came to the area with Saint John, who spent several years in the area to spread Christianity.
It is a typical Roman house, entirely made of square stones. In the 4th century AD, a church, combining her house and grave, has been built. The shrine itself is not extensively large, but may rather be described as a modest chapel. As I entered the chapel I was met by one single large room holding an altar with a large statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
On the right side, a smaller room lies, traditionally associated with the actual room where the Virgin Mary is believed to have slept. Today this bedroom and praying room is known as the Christian church area and a room with a fireplace is now a chapel for Muslims. Unfortunately only the central part and a room on the right of the altar were open to visitors.
Paul VI was the first pope to visit this place in the 1960’s. Later, in the 1980’s, during his visit, Pope John-Paul II declared the Shrine of Virgin Mary as a pilgrimage place for Christians. Catholic pilgrims also visit the house based on the belief that Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived there until her Assumption (according to Catholic doctrine) or Dormition (according to Orthodox belief). It is also visited by Muslims who recognize Mary as the mother of one of their prophets. Every year, on August 15th a ceremony is organized to commemorate Mary’s Assumption.
Another interesting place is the “Water of Mary”, a source to be found at the exit of the church area. This fountain has a rather salt water source and is said to hold curative properties. People stand in line to drink this water or to fill water bottles so that they can take this water home for friends or sick family members. This water is also believed by some pilgrims to not only have miraculous powers of healing but also powers of fertility.
Outside the shrine is a “wishing wall” which pilgrims have used by tying their personal intentions on paper or fabric. People add their wishes to this wall which is then believed to be blessed by the Virgin Mary. So remember to take a little piece of cloth or white paper along so that you can tie up your own wishes.