Early Christianity’s roots in Ephesus


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The ancient city of Ephesus is filled with impressive historic ruins. (Source: Murat Guzelgun)

If there’s one place not to miss when traveling along the Aegean coast in Turkey, it’s a trip to the ancient city of Ephesus. Just a couple of hours drive from the coastal city of Izmir, Ephesus attracts thousands of Christian pilgrims (as well as non-religious holidaymakers) each year. The appetite for foreigners to explore their faith and its early history in Turkey is here. Let’s take a closer look at three saints from early Christianity who travelled to Ephesus.


The House of the Virgin Mary at Ephesus


Ephesus is home to the House of the Virgin Mary. It is believed John brought the Virgin Mary to Ephesus.  (Source: Wikicommons)

Just above the Greco-Roman ruins at Ephesus, there stands a simple stone square building known as the House of the Virgin Mary. For those looking to visit, you’ll be immediately struck by the calm and silence you feel. There’s no doubt this is a religious holy site.

According to tradition, it was here that Mary lived her final years. She was brought to Ephesus by the apostle John.

But it’s not just Christians who celebrate Mary. In fact, don’t be surprised if you see Muslims also praying near a small Muslim shrine to Mary outside her home. Mary is actually mentioned more often in the Koran than in the New Testament. However, she is honored as Maryam, the mother of the prophet Jesus.

St Paul and the Silversmith’s revolt at Ephesus 



Today, the Temple of Artemis is left in ruins. (Source: Wikicommons)


St. Paul spent the Apostle years in Ephesus, but he mainly used it as a base while traveling in Asia Minor on missionary work.

When Paul came to Ephesus around the year 53 A.D., the city already had a small Christian community. While in Ephesus Paul tended to new converts and tried tirelessly to make more.



This model of the Temple of Artemis at Miniaturk Park, Istanbul, Turkey aims to recreate the probable appearance of the first temple. (Source: Wikicommons)


This model of the Temple of Artemis, at Miniatürk Park, Istanbul, Turkey, attempts to recreate the probable appearance of the first temple. But one incident that stands out most from Paul’s time in Ephesus is his distaste for the Temple of Artemis. The sale of the icons of the goddess Artemis to tourists and pilgrims was quite a lucrative business for the local community of Ephesus. Artisans who crafted miniature icons of Artemis and her temple made big money from tourists. This did not stop Paul from openly preaching that gods made by humans were not gods at all and should not be worshipped. When the silversmith Demetrius heard there was a man named Paul preaching against these icons, he feared his livelihood was at stake. Demetrius and his fellow artisans marched to the amphitheater shouting, “Great is Artemis of Ephesus!” They found some of Paul’s followers and hustled them along with them, creating a scene that was on the brink of becoming violent. Government officials intervened and Paul was forced to leave Ephesus.


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The amphitheater in Ephesus could seat thousands of people. (Source: Murat Guzelgun)


The Basilica of St. John
The other saint who has great prominence in Christianity was John – the apostle, evangelist and prophet. While it must be noted that there is no Biblical mention of John being here in Ephesus, early church tradition strongly links the apostle to the ancient city. Some scholars speculate that John came to Asia Minor to assume leadership of the growing church communities there after the martyrdom of Peter and Paul in Rome. Also according to early church tradition, John brought the Virgin Mary with him to Ephesus.



The Basilica of St. John was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinia in honor of St John the Apostle. (Source: Wikicommons/Casalmaggiore Provincia)

For those who remember the following Gospel, it is said John wrote this in Ephesus just before he died near the location of his tomb.


The beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.



As you walk along the hill to St. John’s tomb, you will see ornate Ionic columns in Ephesus. (Source: Murat Guzelgun) 


To honor St John, the 6th century Emperor Justinian built The Basilica of St. John. The great church stood over what was believed to be the saint’s burial site. Now in ruins, the basilica was once one of the largest and most important churches in Christendom with thousands coming to visit the elevated tomb. But with the decline in importance of Ephesus and after Arab raids, the basilica fell into ruins until the Seljuk Aydinoglu clan converted it into a mosque in 1330. The building was then completely destroyed in 1402 by Tamerlane’s Mongol army.

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