We are in Selçuk for a couple of days.
Yesterday, Pat and I visited the extensive ruins of the Basilica of St John the evangelist – built in the 6th century – over St. John’s tomb – on a hilltop in Selçuk, near the ancient city of Ephesus. Ever since, we’ve been brushing up on our who’s-who and who-did-what of the New Testament.
After Jesus was crucified, his mum is said to have come here to Ephesus with John, Jesus having asked his friend to look after her. It was probably a good idea to get out of Jerusalem for a while anyway as the Romans there were on an anti-followers-of-Jesus rampage.
Today when we were tramping around the extensive ruins of Ephesus, we visited the site of the Church of Mary built in 200 CE and dedicated to Mary after a council determined that she was the mother of god.
Of course this promoted Pat and I to ponder the whole concept of a Virgin Mary. What was Joseph doing with a virgin wife? We gather he was much older than her, that she may have been married as young as twelve years old and – well perhaps the old guy had the decency to not consummate the marriage? So after Joseph doesn’t consummate the marriage, young Mary manages to get pregnant and have a baby and still remain a virgin? Really? You just have to question the physiology behind that miracle.
Just down the hill from Ephesus, the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers is supposed to have contained Mary’s sarcophagus – so proclaims one source. But the grotto was built by the Byzantines who held sway in these parts between 395 CE to 1308. Even my poor math is up to figuring out the improbability that Mary was buried within. Another story suggests her body was put into a whicker coffin and placed in a cave near her home. This strikes me as a more likely scenario. The Catholic Church generally proclaims her tomb to be in Jerusalem. Believe it or not, there are those who think she is buried somewhere in Wales or in Mary, Turkmenistan. Now Pat, Helen and I recently visited Mary, and I sincerely hope the poor woman’s bones don’t languish in that god-forsaken corner of the earth.
So if Mary came here to Ephesus after her son was crucified to live out her days, where did she actually live? Well not in town it would seem. The Romans were in charge in Ephesus during that time frame so perhaps that was good incentive for Mary to lie low. According to reliable sources – you be the judge of what the reliability may be – she lived in a little stone house – built by John himself – up on the mountain above the ancient city. Several Christian and Jewish families lived in the area so she would likely have felt safe.
Pat and I went to investigate Mary’s house. Today there is a church built over what is supposedly the original foundation.
True or not, we like this story and there are certainly some indications that it could be accurate.
The Catholic Church, however, has very reluctantly and only recently accepted this as a possible location for Mary’s habitation in her senior years.
So here’s where we take the whole thing one step further. If you are a staunch Christian with set ideas on Christ’s ascension – please don’t upset yourself by reading this twist to the ancient fable.
Did Jesus really die on the cross? There is much learned conjecture that he did not. If he became unconscious due to dehydration, some blood loss, shock, pain – might he have revived after three days in a cool cave? It is a medical possibility. Might his mum and John have spirited him out of town and brought him to a remote hillside house to live his remaining days in secret solitude? Think about it – his possible tomb may have been found in Jerusalem but have his bones ever been found and positively identified? What a brilliant cover-up.
Many scholars of all faiths have spent their careers researching the death of Jesus and the birth of Christianity. Over the centuries millions of people have died because of their Christian convictions and beliefs. There have been wars waged and murders committed in the name of one belief or another.
I like to imagine that the Romans didn’t manage to kill the socially aware, charismatic man from Nazareth. I like to imagine that he, his mum and his friend John outfoxed them and that Mary helped Jesus heal from his wounds under the olive trees and Christmas orange trees that grow on the sunny rocky slopes above Ephesus. I hope their bones rest peacefully and secretly in a hidden cave and that they will continue to do so.