There was one more part of the Ephesus site that we needed to have a look at before returning to the Car-Park and that was to the Church of Mary. This building was outside the Romanized Ephesus site and the sign pointing down the pathway can be seen in the image on left below. This Church was the first dedicated to Mary, the ‘Mother of God’, and was built in the early 5th century, perhaps because Ephesus was the site of the third Ecumenical Council. It was probably a sign that life as a Christian was becoming safer in the world when 200 bishops of the Church can gather together and discuss such obscure topics as the divine nature of Jesus and, by association, his mother Mary. The discussion was considered so significant that famous Bishop Nestorius (380-451) was declared a heretic as a result of his opinions and sent into exile. Mary was declared the ‘Theotokos’, the “God-bearer’ and so her importance as a figure in the Christian Church was greatly amplified. This Church building reminded me of a Greek Orthodox Church down the road from where I used to live in Brisbane called the ‘Dormitian of the Theotokos’. The concept of ‘dormition’ was all around the theology that the God bearer, at the end of her life, was taken directly up into heaven, thus by-passing the grave process. This event is generally held to have taken place outside Jerusalem but there is an alternative account that suggests it happened here at Ephesus.
After strolling around the Church of Mary (apparently built over the ruins of a 3rd century Roman Basilica), we then jumped into our car and headed not far up the road to inspect what was left of the most famous building ever to be associated with Ephesus, the Temple of Artemis. This temple of worship was built and rebuilt over a thousand years from the 9th Century BCE to the 2nd Century CE. Its earliest form began in the 9th century and its final evolution was destroyed by a Christian mob. The image on the left is a great photo in that it summarises the significance of the site. The only visible remains of the temple is a forlorn column that on the day we were there, housed the nest of a stalk on top of the column. This site was meant to be chosen as it was a marshy, water-logged site and the ancient city fathers decided this would assist in preventing collapses due to earthquakes. In the background can be seen two of its religious ancestors, the Basilica of St John (6th C CE) and the Isa Bey Mosque (built 1374-5) and on the hill above is a Byzantine Fort built in the 14th Century.
The Artemesian had many rises and falls. The bronze age version of the temple was destroyed by floods in the 7th century. It was rebuilt by the 6th century BCE and it was this huge version of the temple, twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens, that was hailed as a wonder of the world. It was burnt down by a crazy man in 325 BCE and was rebuilt at the time of Alexander the Great, even larger than the second version of the temple. This version of the temple lasted into the fifth century CE and was eventually destroyed, along with Artemis’s name around Ephesus. When British archaeologists went looking for it in the 19th century, it took them six years to find the site and excavations began in 1869 and went on until 1874.
There have been many attempts to figure out what the Temple of Artemis looked like in its heyday, based on early written records and what little rubble survived the destruction of the temple. The above reconstruction is a good one; note the huge figure of the statue of Artemis that was placed just short of the centre of the temple. The statue of Artemis would have been huge, similar to the fourth wonder of the ancient world, the statue of Zeus at Olympus or the statue of Athena in the Parthenon of Athens.
Requiring a huge, wide roof, the temple needed numerous columns to hold it up. The four rows at the front were built with huge, sculptured pediments and one of these was recovered (above left) and can be viewed today in the British Museum.
From the site of the Temple of Artemis with its one meagre column consisting of disconnected fragments found on the site, we drove a short way up the hill to the more substantial ruins of the Basilica of St John.
For those visitors not up with their biblical scholarship, it’s probably useful to recall that St John was a significant contributor to the books in the New Testament, having written the fourth Gospel, three letters and the controversial last book of the bible, ‘Revelations’. Although a significant amount of his writings have come down to us, there is little reliable information of a biographical nature that has survived. Even the assertion that he is responsible for all the books mentioned above is a problem. The tone and style of St John’s Gospel is very different from the tone and style of the author of the ‘Book of Revelations’. For example, the John of Revelations has this to say about Christians in Thyatira… “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet…I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead.” Perhaps the apostle who Jesus loved and who was given care of Mary in his old age became a cranky, intolerant character. Maybe his personality was changed by a persecution event during his time in Rome when he was plunged into a cauldron of boiling oil and surprising emerged unharmed.
John the apostle is believed to be buried here at Ephesus and a small church was built around the grave. In the sixth century CE, this old church was replaced as recorded by the contemporary writer Procopius. “This church, which was small and in a ruined condition because of its great age, the Emperor Justinian tore down to the ground and replaced by a church so large and beautiful, that, to speak briefly, it resembles very closely in all respects, and is a rival to, the shrine which is dedicated to all the Apostles in the imperial city…”
The site of St John’s basilica is a beautiful place to visit, not just because of the ruins from ancient times but also because of the view down the valley. This view takes in the distant horizon, the fields of the missing Artemision and the Isa Bey Mosque (1374–75). It is a view like this that must prompt the visitor into wondering at the centuries of change in the religious beliefs of this community that is captured here; from the ancient worship of the Greek Gods, the less than tolerant Christian period and the dominant religious culture of Turkey today that is Islam. Whilst each phase avoided borrowing too many ideas from their predecessors, they certainly borrowed building materials from the earlier places of worship.
One of the other tourist sites around Epheses that our guide encouraged us to visit was the House of the Virgin Mary. This site is linked to the story of St John, who having been told by Jesus from the cross to look after his mother, apparently brought her to Ephesus. There are a number of difficulties with the historiography of this account but this didn’t stop locals and visitors wondering, if Mary had actually lived somewhere around Ephesus, where was her house located. A French priest in the 1890s went looking for the site of this possible house based on clues he found in the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774–1824).
There are a number of signs outside the house that clearly indicate that the conservators of this site are aware that some might be sceptical about its provenance as a home of Mary. These signs, despite being very interesting, didn’t fill me with confidence that we were visiting a house once used by the mother of Jesus of Nazareth. However it was a beautiful spot up on the mountain above Ephesus. Another cause for concern arose for me when, as we were leaving, a large bus load of Asian tourists arrived to inspect this obscure site connected to religious beliefs that were already fairly foreign to them. I hope they enjoyed the architecture and the good views at the House of the Virgin Mary.
Our last stop during our time visiting the area around Ephesus was to the Selcuk Archaeological Museum. By world standards this is a small museum but it makes up for its size by the wide range of fascinating discoveries from not just Ephesus but sites outside the area. If it was able to display all the artifacts discovered in the area it would need to be one of the world’s largest museums. The artifacts dug up between 1867-1905 were transported back to the British Museum. To make matters worse, when the Austrians took over the archaeological digs around Ephesus from 1896 to 1906, all their finds were transported back to Vienna as a ‘gift’ to Franz Joseph. One of these treasures was an Amazon from the altar of the Temple of Artemis (Image right). With the founding of the Turkish Republic all antiquities were forbidden from being taken out of the country and the Selcuk Museum was founded in 1964 to be a recipient of the artifacts excavated around Ephesus.
There are many galleries in this fine museum but the prize possessions of the collections are two significant statues of Artemis that have been found in the district. The one on the left below is called the Beautiful Artemis as it was found perfectly preserved in 1956. The second great find from the first century CE was an Artemis statue that was called the ‘Great Artemis’ as it was well over a metre taller than the ‘Beautiful Artemis’. The third Artemis statue below is not prized in any way; it is a souvenir of my time in Ephesus and is a nod to those makers of silver statues of Artemis that St Paul was putting out of business.
Any visit to Ephesus and Selcuk is a busy time but it was getting late in the afternoon so we decided we needed a rest in order to prepare ourselves for the drive up the coast the next day to Pergamon.