The History of Meryem Ana
The modern history of Meryem Ana begins in the first half of 19th century on the banks of the Rhine in Germany, in the sickbed of a peasant woman in a village near Diilmen in Westphalia. Anna Katharina Emmerick (1774-1824) suffered from an incurable illness which confined her to bed for 12 years. During that time she took comfort from visions which she had concerning the lives of Jesus and Mary.
These visions were extraordinarily extensive and detailed, and they contained facts, places and people that she could not have otherwise known. This aroused first public curiosity and then the astonished interest not only of local people but also of certain "intellectuals" including the German Romantic poet Clemens Brentano (1778-1849), who moved to Dulmen in 1818 in order to become Katharina's “secretary”.
Day after day he took notes of what Katharina said about the lives of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Much later, rereading what he had assembled, he decided to make it known, and in 1835 he published a volume called: The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. After his death in 1842, another volume called: The Life of the Virgin Mary according to the Visions of Anna Katharina Emmerick was published.
In the penultimate chapter we read: “After Our Lord's Ascension Mary lived for three years on Mount Zion (Jerusalem), for three years in Bethany, and for nine years in Ephesus, whither St. John took her soon after the Jews had set Lazarus and his sisters adrift upon the sea. Mary did not live in Ephesus itself, but in the country near it where several women who were her close friends had settled. Mary's dwelling was on a hill to the left of the road from Jerusalem some three and a half hours from Ephesus. Narrow paths lead southwards to a hill near the top of which is an uneven plateau, some half-hour’s journey in circumference, overgrown, like the hill itself, with wild trees and bushes. It was on this plateau that the Jewish settlers had made their home. It is a very lonely place, but has many fertile and pleasant slopes as well as rock-caves, clean and dry and surrounded by patches of sand. It is wild but not desolate, and scattered about it are a number of trees, pyramid shaped, with big shady branches below and smooth trunks.
John had had a house built for the Blessed Virgin before he brought her here. Several Christian families and holy women had already settled here, some in caves in the earth or the rocks, fitted out with light woodwork to make dwellings, and some in fragile huts or tents.
They had come here to escape violent persecution. Their dwellings were like hermits’ cells, for they used as their refuges what nature offered them. As a rule, they lived at a quarter of an hour’s distance from each other. The whole settlement was like a scattered village. Mary's house was the only one built of stone. A little way behind it was the summit of the rocky hill from which one could see over the trees and hills to Ephesus and the sea with its many islands. The place is nearer the sea than Ephesus, which must be several hours’ journey distant from the coast.”
THE STORY OF THE REDISCOVERY OF MERYEM ANA (1891)
The discovery of Meryem Ana is linked to an episode of convent life. Sister Marie de Mandat Grancey, superior of the Sisters of Charity in charge of the French Hospital in Izmir (Smyrna), was listening one day in the dining hall to a reading of a passage from Anna Katharina Emmerick's “The Life of the Virgin Mary”, which described in detail the House of Ephesus. She asked Fathers Jung and Poulin, two Lazarist fathers who taught at the Sacred Heart College in Izmir, and who had come to celebrate Mass at the hospital, to verify the truth of these “visions”. Fr. Poulin recounts what happened at that time in his own detached and charming style:
Towards the middle of November 1890 “The Life of the Blessed Virgin” by Anna Katharina Emmerick came into the hands of some priests who lived in Izmir. These priests, it must be admitted, were not at all disposed to believe these supposed “visions”. They read the book nevertheless. They were astonished to find, in place of the “fantasies” they expected, simplicity, can dour, straightforwardness and good common sense. In the last two chapters the visionary recounts that the Holy Virgin had stayed in the region of Ephesus, in a house built for her by Saint John. Here she recounts the most minute and precise details not only of the building itself but also of the surrounding countryside - the site, orientation, distance, etc.
They all wished to investigate the truth of these statements for themselves, and decided to go to the site. After all, this was the only way to determine the truth or falsity of the statements.
The expedition was led by the most skeptical of the lot, Father Jung. He took with him another priest who like himself had survived the war of 1870 and who was almost as unbelieving, and a servant for the baggage, a railway man, and set off firm in his resolution to search the whole mountain in order to establish once and for all that Emmerick’s statements were unfounded and thereby close forever this question raised by the fantasies of a poor deluded woman. But little did he image what was to happen!
They set off on Wednesday, July 29th 1891, a day dedicated to St. Joseph and the feast of St. Martha, resolutely walking, compass in hand, in the direction indicated by the book. At around 11 o'clock they finally reached a plateau where there was a small tobacco field with a few women working in it. At any other time the sight of this field and the women might have attracted their attention but in their present state, exhausted, dying of heat and thirst, they had but a single thought: “WATER!” The women told them that they had no water but that over there at the “Monastiri” there was a spring, and they pointed to a clump of trees about 10 minutes away. The men rushed over there. Their astonishment knew no bounds when, approaching the spring, they discovered, hidden under large trees, the ruins of a small house or chapel. Their thoughts turned to Emmerick’s book right away: the plateau... the ruins... the steep rocks... the mountain behind them... the sea before them...
“Surely this can’t be what we were looking for?” they thought. They felt a strong need to know for sure. Anna Katharina Emmerick had said that from the top of the mountain on which the house was built, Ephesus could be seen on one side and, on the other side and much closer, the sea. They forgot their exhaustion, the heat, their thirst. Half running, half climbing, they reached the top of the mountain. There was no more room for doubt. There on the right was Aya Solouk, Prion and the plain of Ephesus and on the left, very near, the sea and the island of Samos.
It is difficult to express the explorers’ joy and elation. Nonetheless, they did not want to be taken in by appearances. They wanted to be completely convinced before making any kind of judgment and especially before speaking of it. They spent the following two days studying the house and terrain, the orientation and neighboring places, etc. After two days of study in the field, they were convinced that they had found what they had not at all expected to see. The men returned to Izmir to reveal their astounding discovery to friends and foes alike.
Fifteen days later, on August 13th, a second expedition went to the site to check up on the findings of the first. They not only confirmed the results but noted additional details confirming Emmerick’s revelations which had escaped the notice of the first visitors in July.
Between the 19th and the 23 th of August, a third expedition set off, composed of the head of the first expedition with 5 or 6 educated laymen. This third expedition stayed on the site for a whole week, measuring, drawing and photographing, noting down everything that could possibly be of interest with great precision.
When they returned to Izmir, they brought maps, sketches, drawings and photographs, and above all they brought with them the certainty that they had found what Emmerick had described from her sickbed, and no longer needed to look for it elsewhere. At that time the authorities of the diocese intervened, confirming the discovery.
On Thursday, December I, 1882, Archbishop Timoni of Izmir (Ephesus is in the diocese of Izmir), wanting to check for himself the various reports he had received, went up to Panaya Capouli in person, accompanied by a dozen or so notables, both churchmen and lay people. Having examined everything with his own eyes, His Grace recognized that there were undeniable similarities between Katharina Emmerick's description and the house before him. Amazed, he immediately began an official process in which it was said: “The time has come to tell the Christian world: judge for yourselves whether what has been found is or is not the home of Mary in Ephesus”.
Meryem Ana Evi