Stories from the House of the Virgin Mary

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

There is one significant reason why exploring this corner of the world excites me so.

This area is not only full of archaeological and architectural wonders, it also holds so many epic stories. Stories of significant events that continue to influence and shape civilization thousands of years later.


We went to The House of the Virgin Mary near Ephesus not on a devout pilgrimage as many do, but in the pursuit of that story. Here is a place deemed holy by the Catholic Church and stands also as a shrine for Muslims. It is the reported place where Mary was taken by Saint John to live out her days.

There is much dispute over her presence as no firm evidence exists to carry the claim. The house was actually only discovered in the 19th century when a German nun saw it in a series of visions; from those visions she was able to give directions to its whereabouts and details of its construction. As it goes against the original belief of Mary’s Assumption being near Jerusalem and there is no archaeological evidence to support it, the claim has not been officially accepted. Regardless, many believe it to be so – several Popes have visited, and pilgrims descend on it annually every 15th of August.

People have declared to feel a rush of emotions and a significant spiritual presence when visiting the house, perhaps offering additional credence to the claim of its famous guest.

Pete and I arrived early and were the first ones on site. I was grateful for this, preferring to observe such places in peace, void of whispers and the usual jostling for space.

People have declared to feel a rush of emotions and a significant spiritual presence when visiting the house, perhaps offering additional credence to the claim of its famous guest.

Virgin Mary House, Turkey

The building that was said to be her house is now a small chapel and Catholic services are still held there every Sunday. It is modest and void of much decoration, the walls are mostly bare and staggered bricks are exposed. We watched as a nun repeatedly fussed over the angle of the fresh flowers placed at the alter. A small statue of Mary sat between many colorful bouquets.

We each took a candle from the church, and lit them in a large glass case just outside.

Virgin Mary House candle, Ephesus

We said silent prayers for the important women in our life, and sat beside it for a few minutes, absorbed in pensive thought. While Pete took a few pictures I continued to sit, reflecting on the many people who had come here before us from all over the world. Those in pursuit of hope, maybe even salvation. I wondered what they found, and if those who felt so moved by their visit carried that feeling home.

We moved onto the prayer wall just below, scanning and reading notes left behind by visitors on white scraps of fabric, paper, or napkin. We lingered only momentarily,  proceeding to the exit as a large tour group began to move into the space.

Prayer Wall, Virgin Mary House, Ephesus

I cannot say I felt a life-changing rush of emotions. No tears or tingling. Instead, just the warmth of deep appreciation for a place so peaceful, filled with love and prayers from across the world, Christians and Muslims alike. A place where a respect of beliefs is acknowledged and upheld. Where prayers and wishes are probably very much the same.

And that is the final story that should be told, I believe. One of kinship and of understanding, and that people really aren’t so different after all.

Prayers, Virgin Mary House, Ephesus

0 Comments... Be the first to comment
  • April 18 2012

    So loved your narration. And those pics, are amazing too. Felt a sense of peace and serenity while reading your post.
    Thanks for sharing this.
    Have a nice day:)
    Arti recently posted..Dwarkadheesh Temple in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh

    • Pete
      April 19 2012

      Thanks Arti, Dalene is away this week in TBU so I’m on answering comments duty 🙂 It really was such a serene peaceful location and luckily we were the first ones in and could enjoy it before the bus loads of people arrived.

  • April 18 2012

    I am sure that nun in the picture is the same one that gave me a Turkish eye. I felt so humble that she took interest in me, a random stranger. Great pictures again. Nice that you went, so many people don’t combine it with a trip to Ephesus.
    Natalie recently posted..Tourism In Turkey – Stats and Plans For The Future – Infographic

    • Pete
      April 19 2012

      I was hesitant in going at first, but I decided to give it a chance and I’m glad I did. Like Dalene, I didn’t have any sensation or spirit enlightening experience, but overall felt an extreme sense of peace and serenity.

  • April 18 2012

    . . nicely put – it is a pretty enough place and peaceful when void of ‘pilgrims’.

  • April 18 2012

    Beautifully written! The wall with the thousands of notes looks incredible.
    Dani recently posted..Jumping Into the “Travel Closet” in Egypt

    • Pete
      April 19 2012

      Thank you Dani. It really was incredible. So many different notes written in different languages. Thankfully we saw this as it is a little off the path and hidden from the house.

  • April 18 2012

    If I was there, it would have been really hard for me not to read as many of those prayers as I could. Not that I want to be nosy, but just to touch humanity and witness how we are all the same in our dreams and prayers.

    • Pete
      April 19 2012

      You could spend hours there reading the prayers of others. It really was a touching place. Despite the sun shining through you just felt warm and at ease being here.

  • Just gorgeous! Love the candle shot.

    • Pete
      April 19 2012

      Thanks Andi, I really like the reflections of the flames.

  • April 19 2012

    A lovely bit of writing about what sounds like a really peaceful place. I really like the candle shot, too.
    Amanda recently posted..My Spring and Summer Travel Plans Revealed!

    • Pete
      April 19 2012

      Thanks Amanda!!

  • Mom
    April 18 2012

    A Peaceful read.

  • April 20 2012

    I love the prayer wall. It reminds me of leaving notes in the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem!

  • April 20 2012

    Wow. Anyone would feel at peace when the come visit this place. Definitely an area for deep reflection and prayers. I should take my mom here some day.
    Alexa Meisler recently posted..Mountain Biking Excursion in Miami’s Key Biscayne

    • Pete
      April 24 2012

      If it is peace and reflection you are seeking, then this is certainly the place to find it. Thanks Alexa!

  • April 22 2012

    Beautiful! I love that you draw attention to the fact that most people want the same thing – peace, love, happiness, regardless of religious belief. Wonderful images too 🙂

    • Pete
      April 24 2012

      Thank you Sarah, if only the rest of the world would strive towards the same thing.

  • April 23 2012

    Gorgeous photos. I visited the House of the Virgin Mary last year. Was interesting!
    Roy Marvelous recently posted..Part 2: Muay Thai Camp Survival Guide

    • Pete
      April 24 2012

      Thanks Roy. I’m really glad that I went, so very serene and calm.

  • Lisa
    April 27 2012

    Thanks for this piece, I have wanted to see Mary’s house for a while after reading about it. It does look like a very peaceful place.

    • April 28 2012

      I hope you get there, and get to see it when it’s nice and quiet like we did. That really added to our experience. 🙂

  • Laura @Travelocafe
    April 29 2012

    You manage to give us a bit of that peace through your lovely post and your wonderful pictures.

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