Meryem Ana, the House of Mary

The House at Ephesus (By Rita1234 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The pilgrimage towards a new kind of inner poverty must begin now, while there is still time to hand life over to a higher authority

(Lee Van Laer 2011

This is the account of a pilgrimage taken ten years ago or rather a journey of which this particular pilgrimage was a part. There is nothing special to reveal, no sudden insight or life-changing experience. It is just a story.

By Rita1234Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

It started with a car journey in South West Turkey five years earlier. A car journey to a small house on a hill after we had visited the grand nearby ruins of Ephesus. The house is the so-called Meryem Ana, the House of Mary, the mother of Jesus. That time our visit was brief. The day was hot and we had to get back to where we were staying many miles away. We walked in, looked at the statue of Mary, observed a Franciscan monk praying in front of the statue and walked out. Your tourist experience – been there, done that. And then a few steps outside I felt that that was nowhere near enough and that I needed to go back. So I did. Briefly again then but it lodged in my mind that when I could find more time I needed to go back in a proper way, preferably on foot and more prepared.

A proper pilgrimage involves some effort to reach the ‘holy’ place. And a proper effort involves your feet. And whether the house really was lived in by Mary nearly two thousand years ago is also not really important. There was something special about the place. Perhaps all places connected to a ‘holy’ person and visited reverently have a certain pull or magic about them.

This place pulled me.

I arrived in Seljuk, the nearest town, and put up in a small hostel. The house was 9 kilometres away, a decent walk but not one to do during the heat of the day so I decided to start before dawn the next day.

It was dark when I started, the only sounds those of the barking dogs. I had my walking stick with me just in case any got too interested. I took the road out of town and by the time I got to the road that climbed up the hill, it had lightened.

I passed the entrance to Ephesus. Nothing happening there yet. The road was a long steady climb. I was counting backwards and forwards as well as trying to sense parts of my body as I was walking, something I had been doing on instruction for some time and especially on this particular journey (overland from Uzbekistan back to England). I had been preparing for this walk, knowing I would need to be reasonably fit for it and knowing also that my hip might give way if I wasn’t careful!

And then an encounter. A little dog, terrified by the roadside, cowering when I came near to it. I bent down and stroked it, talking soothingly. It was now my companion and, as I took up my walk again, it followed and followed all the way (nearly half the whole walk) up to the tourist centre now surrounding the house. After my initial friendliness, I started to get worried. Concerned for its safety, I had guided it towards the side of the road when the workers’ vehicles came up fast behind us. I had even begun wondering about taking it home with me. But finally I decided I couldn’t and turned nasty, shouting at it to go away, motioning to hit it with my foot. But no, it still followed, even if at a slightly safer distance. Finally coming near the destination where there were cafes and restaurants starting up to receive the days hordes of tourists, the smells took it away. I had completed what it had wanted me to do, or so it seemed

And so to the house. I have it to myself. The tourists will not arrive for another half an hour. I cry my way in. I have visited a number of ‘holy’ places on this trip – shrines, mosques and churches – and it is my emotions that have been touched and these tears have come before. I have even come to understand how many regard the occupants of the shrines and tombs as still living, as still someone to talk with and listen to. Here it is more a matter of reverence. I light a candle and use it to light the others that had gone out. I stay for a time. Just before I leave two nuns start singing behind me. It is all very special.

On the walk back down the hill – no sign of the little dog this time – I count more than 40 coaches laden with tourists. In the past, locals from miles around would visit the house, always walking, and walking much longer distances than I have. In other parts of the world, people prostrate themselves or walk on their hands and knees to such places. I had made a little more effort than before but no more than that. I still wonder about that little dog!


Anthony Smith