Meryeana Evi

Robert Walton

© Copyright 2018 by Robert Walton


Photo of a building.
Photo (c) by Robert Walton.

The day dawned bright and sunny in Selcuk, as my family and I entered our hotel’s picturesque dining room. Ancient crossbows and scrolls of Arabic and Persian script vied for room on the walls with a plastic singing bass and an Efes beer advertisement. A laden buffet table snatched my gaze from the wall hangings. Turkish breakfast is quite to my liking. You start with fresh melon, figs, sliced tomatoes and grapes, add white cheese, yoghurt and simit – a roll configured like a soft pretzel with a crispy crust smothered in sesame seeds, baked fresh every morning. I must confess that I’ve become a simit addict. I’ll truly miss it when I get back home. Mindful of my future dearth of simit, I plucked up three rolls. Turkish jams – cherry, fig and apricot – are heavy with fruit and perfect to dip one’s simit in.  Good olives, hard-boiled eggs and hot peppers rounded out my personal menu. 

Between tasty bites, we - wife Phyllis, twenty-something sons Jon and Jeremy and I - contemplated a day of full-blown tourism, for visits to both Mary’s House and the ruins at Ephesus were on the agenda.  Our rather shy hotel clerk suggested that we needed a driver for the day. We agreed and he went off to make calls. 

When breakfast was done, we stepped out the front door and found a yellow cab awaiting us. Its driver, Ibrahim, was stout, gray-haired and perhaps a year or two past sixty.  His moustache was bushy gray and he had last shaved a couple of days before we met. He opened the rear door of his cab for Phyllis and me. Jon slid in with us and Jeremy took the front seat.

Jeremy’s mastery of Turkish - after living and studying in Istanbul for a year - insured that he and Ibrahim became fast friends within a few minutes. They quickly worked out a deal and exchanged cell numbers.  Ibrahim was willing to stick with us through a trip into the mountains and back down to the ruins of Ephesus.  He would come at our call when we were ready to move and pick us up at the end of our explorations. 

Sitting back in the cab’s comfy seat. I reflected on how much the Selcuk region reminded me of California’s Santa Lucia Mountains.  Trees growing on northern slopes of hills to our left were quite similar to digger pines. They were just enough shorter, though, that I never stopped looking for Romans to stroll from between their trunks. As with the Central Coast, this area is also plagued by wildfires during the summer and there was a big one this past August.  We noticed the burn scars immediately and Ibrahim told us that several square miles had been lost to the flames. 

We also noticed that an extensive and industrious effort to mitigate damage and reclaim the burned area was underway. A worker loading a donkey with cut logs struck me as a glimpse into the area’s distant past.  I asked several questions of Ibrahim through Jeremy and he was eager to reply, sometimes using both hands while explaining an important detail. When his replies seriously affected his driving, he’d pull off the road and continue talking.  Selcuk, a stone’s throw above sea level, was now a thousand feet below us. The road we were on ascends three thousand feet and has serious curves carved above serious precipices. Phyllis poked me with her elbow. I soon got the picture and kept my mouth shut until we were safely stopped.

Near the summit of Nightingale Mountain is Meryeana Evi, Mary’s house. It’s said to be the place where she spent the final years of her life.  There is a fine weave of circumstantial scientific proof that supports this idea. The Bible clearly states (John, chapter 19, verses 26 and 27) that Jesus entrusted his mother to John. Shortly after the crucifixion, John, along with other early Christians, made his way to Ephesus from Jerusalem. There is no reason to suppose that Mary did not make this journey with him. Local legend and oral history place Mary in Ephesus for a few months until the house on Nightingale Mountain was prepared for her.  The exact year of her death is uncertain, but she is said to have resided in her mountain home for more than twenty years.

 There are proofs of faith, too, and they are interesting. I’ll sketch them briefly.  In 1812, a German nun, Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich began having intense visions. The visions continued for twelve years - until her death in 1824 - and were carefully recorded.  Only a few of them touched on Mary’s life after the crucifixion of her son, but these several visions contained descriptions of both the house’s location and the house itself. Sister Anne never traveled outside of Germany during her life.

In 1880, A French priest, one Fr. Gouyet, became intrigued with Sister Anne’s visions and set out to find Mary’s house. He traveled to Smyrna, received help from the Archbishop there and mounted an exploratory expedition. An ancient trail and the remains of an ancient road led him straight to the ruins of the house. He recognized it immediately from Sister Anne's descriptions. It took many years and much research, but the Catholic Church eventually, accepted and endorsed both the history and the holiness of this house.

We arrived at the end of the road around mid-morning after a rather longer-lasting drive than we’d anticipated. Ibrahim, already impressed and delighted with Jeremy’s gift of Turkish gab, was charmed when I invited him to have tea with us after our visit to the house. He positively beamed as we walked away from the cab. To improve any social situation in Turkey, ask the folks to have tea! 

We passed trough a shaded area, which sheltered the ticket window, the teashop, some tables and a trinket shop stuffed with merchandise. However large a Turkish shop may be, I’ve found, it’s always too small by half to contain everything that’s for sale.

We continued down a sunny, slightly declining path for seventy yards or so and reached a paved plaza. As we stood there, I glanced up toward the summit of Nightingale Mountain. The ridge-top was very close, only a few dozen steps away.  The previous year’s fierce fire had crossed its top, burned a few feet down the western slope and stopped just above Mary’s house. 

I always expect to learn a great deal from my travels. However, my approach is somewhat minimalist and differs from that of friends who read up on the details of places they intend to visit. I try to enter a journey’s experiences with a minimum of prior knowledge and, hopefully, innocent of preconceptions. My intention is to delve more deeply into the places, objects and histories that have piqued my interest. About all I initially knew of Mary’s house was that she was supposed to have lived there.

The reconstructed house (only partial walls and the foundation were discovered by Fr. Gouet) is made of native stone, golden in color.  It is small, though solid and well conceived for living simply. Originally shaped roughly like an L, a modern entrance vestibule has been added.  The main room is now a small chapel lit mostly by votive candles.  Through an arch are an altar and a statue of Mary in an arched alcove behind it.  Smaller images of her are found in smaller alcoves to either side of the large one. A low door leads right to a sleeping chamber.  Archaeologists believe that Mary’s bed was situated in a vestibule against the south wall of this room.  A modern door through the west wall leads outside.  That’s it.

Jeremy and I dawdled somewhat behind Phyllis and Jon, enjoying a breeze from the not too distant sea. We reunited in the plaza and stood quietly together for a few moments. The calm beauty of the place subdued our usually boisterous family interactions. We each thought private thoughts as we walked down a lower, more deeply shaded path that would lead eventually back to the entrance and shop.  We came to Mary’s spring, now equipped with three brass faucets and a deep basin.  We each took a sip of cold, mountain water before continuing down the path. 

We then came to a curious edifice, a kind of open-air bulletin board where bits of every possible kind of paper had been affixed. Each bit of paper was symbolic of a wish or a prayer. I had silent doubts about the efficacy of labels pulled from water bottles and cigarette packages.  The vast majority of these “prayers” in paper were left by Muslims.  Mary is a very holy woman in the Muslim faith. She is mentioned 36 times in the Koran, though most American Catholics are unaware of this fact. The idea of Grace, with Mary as its conduit and focus, resonates in both religions - still.

We strolled on beneath the shade of pines and sycamores, walking slowly, happily and - for Waltons - without a great deal of conversation. Looking down through the trees, old friends came gently to my mind, friends now departed from this world. I thought of them, but was not sad. It came to me that, whether or not Mary lived and died here, her spirit abides here now. Loss is part of every life, but somehow loss is eased here, no questions asked. Those who truly offer peace, offer it for all. Mary did and her good will, like the sea breeze, touches all who visit her mountain.

We did our tourists’ duty at the overstuffed gift shop and were pleased with our purchases, among them an excellent book about this site by Donald Carroll. We left the shop and wandered toward the car park. Before we reached it, Ibrahim rose from a table where he’d been seated with several other taxi drivers. He grinned, motioned us to a table farther back beneath the arbor's shade and insisted on treating us. We shared sweet tea and conversed as the morning became warm. Ibrahim laughed a great and admiring laugh when Jeremy told him that Phyllis is the eldest of fourteen children. He raised his glass in a salute to Helen Glassmaker. We shared more jokes - only slightly complicated by linguistic impediments - before our tea was done and we finally clambered back into his cab. Roman ruins awaited us.

None of us said anything, but I could tell as we roared around the first roller-coaster curve that all of us were reluctant to leave. It would not have been the waste of a day to spend it all at Meryeana Evi.

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