A message from Father Nick 68 

Temple of the goddess Artemis (https://move2turkey.com)

From Artemis to Mary

The country we know today as Turkey holds many classical remains. After all, here were the Hellenic cities of Asia Minor, where Greek art and philosophy flourished and where we believe the great poet Homer was born. Even today the ruins of ancient Ephesus are extremely popular with tourists.

Ephesus was associated with goddess worship, especially the worship of Artemis (or Diana in her Roman identity). In the Acts of the Apostles, Ephesian silversmiths – whose idol-making livelihood is threatened by Gospel – stage a riot against Paul, chanting “Great is Diana of the Ephesians”. Centuries earlier, the people of Ephesus, believing that Artemis was born in their city, honoured her with a temple which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. This temple was destroyed by arson – or so the story has it.

It is said that in July 356 BC a man set fire to its wooden roof-beams, wanting to become famous. He did it on the very night when Alexander the Great was born in distant Macedon, and people suggested that it could only have happened because the protecting goddess had left her temple to attend Alexander’s birth.

The fame-seeking arsonist was sentenced to anonymity – no one was to know his name. But the name did at last leak out. The man was called Herostratus, and even today, a person who makes such a bid for notoriety is said to be seeking “Herostratic fame”.

Tomb of St John the apostle

Of course, Ephesus became a major Christian centre too. It is named as one of the “seven churches” of the Book of the Apocalypse. More than that, there is an ancient tradition that St John, the Beloved Disciple, brought Our Lady here to live (we have previously mentioned the small house just outside Ephesus, the Meryem Ana, where some believe she spent her final years). And this is where St John is thought to have been buried. We cannot be sure, but in the

 

 6th century Emperor Justinian built a magnificent church over the traditional site of his grave. Only fragments of that church remain, though they hint at great former beauty. For a while in the fourteenth century, the basilica was converted into a mosque, but it became unusable from earthquake damage in the 14th century. There is real poignancy in the contrast between John’s memorial and the shrines of Peter and Paul in Rome, and James in Compostela – a poignancy highlighted by its long-abandoned baptistery.

Baptistry in St John’s Basilica

Whatever the truth may be, St John will always be associated with Ephesus, and so will Our Lady. A further set of Ephesian ruins is known both as the Church of Mary and the Church of the Councils. This building is dated to the beginning of the 5th century, perhaps making it the setting for the Third Ecumenical Council in 431.

That would be appropriate. The great Council of Ephesus met to establish that Jesus was always divine. In other words, his divinity was not conferred on him in adulthood as some people argued. One clear way of saying this was by emphasising Mary’s role in his conception. The Council pronounced that she was to be known as THEOTOKOS (in Greek), DEIPARA (in Latin) – we now say MOTHER OF GOD. It has always been true that by honouring her we are offering worship to her son.

House of the Virgin Mary at Ephesus