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.
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.
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.
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.
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.