Ephesus and Christianity

Ephesus is vividly alluded to in Acts 19-20 in connection with St. Paul’s extended ministry at Ephesus. Apostle Paul probably spent two and a half years in Ephesus during his third missionary journey, until a riot forced him to leave the city rapidly. Some authorities believe that St. Paul was imprisoned in the so-called Prison of St. Paul in Ephesus. Eventually the belief in Christ and the veneration of his Blessed Mother replaced the worship of Artemis and the other deities.

Ephesus was the site of the third ecumenical council of 431 AD at which the question of the Virgin Mary being the Mother of God was debated. In this council it was decided that Christ had a double nature as God and man, and the Virgin Mary was theotokos, god-bearer.

Ephesus, One of the Seven Churches of Revelation

The Seven Churches of Asia are all located in Anatolia; Ephesus (Efes), Smyrna (Izmir), Laodicea ad Lycum (Goncali), Sardis (Sart), Pergamum (Bergama), Philadelphia (Alasehir) and Thyatira (Akhisar).

These churches are associated both with Saint Paul and with Revelations (the Apocalypse); letters written in c.95 AD to the Seven Churches by John. For some people John is a visionary who lived on the island of Patmos. But some people say he is the Apostle John.

There should have been more than seven cities with major Christian congregations in Anatolia at the time that John wrote and it is unknown why he addressed only these seven. These were possibly the most important ones at that time or letters to other churches were lost.

These churches were not church buildings as such but congregations. These early congregations had their meetings in private homes as there had been no original church buildings until the 3C AD. St. Paul possibly founded some of the Seven Churches on his missionary journeys between 47-57 AD, as he was thought to have visited all seven cities.

(Revelation 2:1-7)

(1) "Write a letter to the leader of the church in Ephesus and tell him this:

"I write to inform you of a message from him who walks among the churches and holds their leaders in his right hand."

(2)"He says to you: I know how many good things you are doing. I have watched your hard work and your patience; I know you don’t tolerate sin among your members and you have carefully examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but aren’t. You have found out how they lie.

(3) You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.

(4) "Yet there is one thing wrong; you don’t love me as at first!

(5) Think about those times of your first love (how different now!) and turn back to me again and work as you did before; or else I will come and remove your candlestick from its place among the churches.

(6) "But there is this about you that is good: You hate the deeds of the licentious Nicolaitans, just as I do.

(7) " Let this message sink into the ears of anyone who listens to what the Spirit is saying to the churches: To everyone who is victorious, I will give fruit from the Tree of Life in the Paradise of God.

Basilica of St. John

At his crucifixion Jesus asked his beloved disciple, John, to look after his mother. John and the Virgin went to Ephesus between 42 and 48 AD and lived there. John was martyred under the rule of the Emperor Trajan. There has been much discussion as to whether John the Apostle is confused with St. John the Theologian whose name, Hagia Theologos, gave the Turkish name first for the town and later only for the hill, Ayasuluk. A small church on the Ayasuluk Hill was dedicated to him in the 2C AD. This church was replaced in the 6C by a huge basilica built by the Emperor Justinian, the impressive ruins of which are still visible.

The basilica had a cruciform plan with four domes along its longitudinal axis and a pair flanking the central dome to form the arm of the cross. Under the central dome was the sacred grave of St. John. Pilgrims have believed that a fine dust from his grave has magical and curative powers. In the apse of the central nave, beyond the transept is the synthronon, semicircular rows of seats for the clergy. To the north transept was attached the treasury which was later converted into a chapel. The baptistery is from an earlier period and now located to the north of the nave.

The citadel at the top of the Ayasuluk Hill is a 6C AD Byzantine construction which was later extended by the Seljuks. Lower down the slopes of Ayasuluk Hill is the Isa Bey Camisi, a 14C AD mosque of the Aydinoglu Principality period. It was built by Isa Bey, a grandson of the founder of the Principality. This is the earliest known example in Anatolia of a mosque that has an arcaded courtyard and pool. It is also the earliest representative of an Anatolian mosque with columns and a transept. It is the last example of the consecutive different religions; pagan temple, Christian church and Moslem mosque. St. John's Grave, 6C AD, Ayasuluk Hill, Selcuk.

Virgin Mary’s House

It is known with certainty that the Virgin Mary went to Ephesus and lived there for some time. Whether or not she died in Ephesus was not known until Anne Catherine Emmerich’s vision. The stigmatized German nun who had never been to Ephesus had a vision of the House of the Virgin Mary and described it in detail to the German writer Clemens Brentano who later published a book about it. Catherine Emmerich died in 1884. In 1891 Paul, Superior of the Lazarists from Izmir read about her vision and found a little building which corresponded with Emmerich’s descriptions. Archeological evidence showed that the little house was from the 6C AD but that the foundations were from the 1C AD.

This place was officially declared a shrine of the Roman Catholic Church in 1896, and since then it has become a popular place of pilgrimage. Pope Paul VI visited the shrine in 1967, Pope Jean Paul II in 1979 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

Church of Mary - The Double Churches

This Roman building is dated to the 2nd century A.D as the ‘Hall of the Muses’. It was used as an education and cultural center. After the christianity became the official religion of Rome, they converted this building into a basilica. It was the first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

It was 260 m. in length, and was built with columns in the form of a fine basilica with baptistry. After it was partly destroyed, the western part formed a domed basilica, and when this too was ruined, the eastern part of the old basilica was turned into a church. So it is also called as the Double Churches. The baptistry of this church is the best preserved in Asia Minor.

The Third Ecumenical Council was held in Ephesus, Asia Minor, in 431 under Emperor Theodosius II, grandson of Theodosius the Great. It is also known as the Council of Ephesus. Approximately 200 bishops attended. Here, the divine character of Christ and the Virgin Mary was discussed. Nestorius (380-451), the founder of the school of Antioch and the Patriarchate of Istanbul, rejected the divine nature of Christ and regarding Mary not as the mother of God but as the mother of a human being. The Alexandrian school, on the other hand, claimed the more mystical, more traditional view that Mary was the mother of God and in the end Nestorius was sent exile. So at this counsil it was decided that Christ had a double nature as God and man, and the Virgin Mary was theotokos, god-bearer.

It was the first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Also the house of Mary is over Panaya-Kapulu mountain, is the most beautiful natural residence in this region. Meryemana (The House of the Virgin Mary-Panaya Kapulu), Ephesus.

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