Ephesus was once a religious centre of early Christianity, and here we can find remnants to remind us of this. We traveled 9km from the port of Kusadasi to Bulbul Mountain (aka Nightingale Mountain) to visit the house of the Virgin Mary. It was July and the journey pleasant, with green mountains and valleys scattered with sprouting villages. During the drive, we received a brief history of the site from our tour guide, who credits the Vatican with declaring this house authentic. We learned the Virgin Mary was brought to this location by the Apostle John. He tells us the site was first discovered in 1881 by French Priest Abbé Julien Gouyet who went in search of the house based on the visions of German nun Anna Catherine Emmerich (beatified in 2004).
Emmerich’s visions were very detailed. She described the fire in the center of the room where the Virgin Mary cooked her meals, the spring water where she drew her water and her view of the mountains and Aegean Sea. When Gouyet stumbled upon the site, it was untouched and just as Emmerich had described it. Legend has it there was even a pile of ashes, remnants of where the Virgin Mary had cooked her meals. We had come to see a chapel based on the descriptions provided by the visions of Emmerich, that has been constructed of stone on the original ruins.
We had climbed into our tour van at 8 am and were one of the first groups at Bulbul Mountain. “Bulbul” is Persian for songbird and the mountain birds were singing our arrival. The forest was fresh, draped in morning shade and from the parking area the stone path was well marked. We followed it to the front door of the house. The Virgin Mary’s house was larger than I had expected, of rectangular shape and constructed of gold coloured stones that seemed to glow as they caught the emerging sunlight through the trees. There was small garden next to the house. It was quiet. Surprisingly quiet, despite the many groups already at the site. I could feel this mountain was being shown the respect worthy of a place of worship.
And there I stood, about to walk into the last known house where it is believed the Virgin Mary spent her remaining days. I felt excited and happy to be there, after all this house was on my Turkey bucket list. I walked into the house and approximately four steps in, I felt unexplained emotion and a sense of peace. My chest felt heavy and water came to my eyes. I cannot tell you why. It just did. But as I walked through the house I began to feel lighter and peaceful. I felt blessed to stand in this shrine to the Virgin Mary. There is a small altar dedicated to The Virgin Mary where one can stop to pray but I said my prayer as I walked through the house.
The Water’s of Mary are just steps from the original house. Folklore has it those who drink from the natural spring source are blessed with improved health and fertility. The water was clean and cold.
The site also has a Wish Wall where those who journey to the site can leave their prayer to the Virgin Mary. The house is a holy place for both Christians and Muslims, who make a pilgrimage to the site. And so we tied our wish onto the Wish Wall along with the thousands and headed to the nearby ancient city of Ephesus.
The first Pope to visit the site was Pope Leo XIII in 1896, and Pope Pius XII declared it a holy place in 1951. The shrine was also visited by Pope Paul VI, John Paul II and lastly Pope Benedict XV in 2006.
35920 Selçuk/İzmir Province, Turkey