Tuesday, June 27, 2006

House of Mary (Ephesus Part 1)

The next port on our cruise was Turkey. They said we'd be going to another ancient ruin, the city of Ephesus. I knew Ephesus only from the Bible. Paul wrote a letter to the church there and it became a book of the Bible called "Ephesians." However, I really knew nothing about the city nor did I know anything about Turkey. In fact, I was feeling rather blase about the whole thing. In my mind, all I could picture about Turkey was the prison in the movie "Midnight Express" starring Brad Davis. Men in fez's talking mean hating Americans.

I had this bad attitude and I thought, "Maybe I'll just skip Turkey." Wouldn't it be nice to just have a long, languid day onboard doing nothing?

But then one of the passengers said, "You haven't been to Ephesus before?"

Crankily, I answered, "No. I mean, what's there?"

She looked knowingly at me. (I hate it when people look knowingly at me). "Did you like Pompeii?"

"Yeah."

"Just go. You haven't seen anything yet."

So, begrudgingly, I decided, "Okay, I'll go see Ephesus." (Now, you see how spoiled I am. People save up for a lifetime to make a trip like this, but I'm hemming and hawing over it like my arm is being twisted and I'm being forced to eat gruel.)

I went to the excursions desk and read a little bit. "This is where Mary, the Mother of Jesus spent the last years of her life. On this tour, you will visit her home.." Oh, great, I groaned. More Catholic stuff. Yucch. "...followed by a trip to the ruins of Ephesus and then a nice lunch out at a carpet factory."

I still didn't want to go. It sounded long, hot, dull and boring. Why would I want to go to a carpet factory? Good heavens. But, still, we signed up (once again getting a slot as an escort so I could get the tour for free) and on the day of the tour, we had to get up extra early so I could babysit all the other spoiled passengers as they gathered for the tour.

Later, as I was grumbling about the tour to our friend Bernard Walz, a pianist from Australia, he said, "There's a great amphiteatre at Ephesus. One of my opera singer friends, on her tour, stood on the stage and sang out loud right there in the middle of the tour. The acoustics are perfect. You have to try it."

The name of the port we were leaving from was Kushadasi. After having met the tour guide, a young, attractive woman, she led us all in a little lesson in how to pronounce it. The emphasis is on the first syllable: KOOSH-uh-dazz-ee. All day long we went around saying KOOSH-us-dazz-ee. It's fun! First stop, "Mother Mary's House." This is where St. John the Divine took Mary to live after Jesus died.

It began with a comfortable bus ride through the hilly countryside. The thing that struck me most was how lush and green Turkey is. Our guide explained to us that Turkey, though it is a Muslim country, is very Westernized. The women are allowed to go to university and they don't have to wear head scarves. They have equal rights to men. And though she said there are elements within the country that would like to change that, she said Turkey is very much an open society.

But you can definitely tell it's a different culture. The first thing I saw that put a smile on my face was a big water park atop a hill. The decorative buildings were like Disneyland as designed by a Sultan, complete with colorful onion shaped tops. We rounded the top of the hill and suddenly there was a dramatic bay with modern hotels all around it.I remembered thinking back to Nick, our tour guide in Greece giving a long speech about how Turkey is too Eastern to be admitted to the European Union. Greece and Turkey have a long, tempestuous history together. They don't like each other at ALL, and Nick was definitely wanting us to know that Greece was a much superior country and people. This bay, by the way, figures into our story about Ephesus and it's why the ruins are still here. I'll get to that later.

There's a little entranceway to the House of Mary where you pay a toll, but we understand that it's all run by a non-profit which is designed to keep the house and the grounds well kept. The Muslim government has allowed the Catholics to have possession of it.

When we got to the house, it was a little stone building and there was a line of people waiting to get in. The church has more or less converted it into a chapel. You weren't supposed to take pictures inside (after all, there is a souvenir stand), but Jim did anyway.As you can see, it's little more than a stone box with an altar. You weren't allowed to talk, either, so there was someone there "hushing" us. Basically, you entered one door, looked at the altar and then exited the side door. There were also cute guys in Franciscan robes who walked around the area. Up on the little hill just in the background of this photo was a shelter where there was a priest holding a mass or something. I always liked those robes and I had some impure thoughts when I saw this guy. I didn't, however, approach him to confess my sin. (Remember, all photos are clickable so you can see them in full size, but if you, dear reader, have any impure thoughts, that's something that will have to stay between you and God).
Down below the house, there was a well with water that is blessed or something. There are four faucets like the one pictured above delivering water from this well. The guide explained that the four faucets had designations. One was for Life, one for Health, one for Wealth and the last one for -- and I wouldn't kid about this -- "General Purposes."

I didn't mean to be sacriligious, but somehow have a magic water fountain for "General Purposes" sounded funny to me and I laughed out loud. I tend to not take things like "magic water" very seriously. It's probably the Baptist in me. All along this wall, however, was a gridwork of metal where people wrote little prayer requests and then tied them to the grid. I thought that was kind of sweet. So, I'm not entirely cynical.I did feel bad, however, about not taking the whole scene very sacramentally, so I stopped at a statue of St. Francis and we had a talk about it.He told me it was okay and since I was a Baptist I was probably going to burn in hell anyway, so live and be well.

I actually enjoyed the visit to Mary's House, but time was awastin'. It was time for me to gather up the little chicks and get ourselves back to the buses. We had a long day ahead of us and this was only the beginning.

(To be continued...)

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