The Church of Mary

The small path on the right side of the exist gate of Ephesus leads you to the Church of Mary. In the 4th century A.D. a church complex 145 m. long was constructed on the western side of the southern Stoa of Olympieion. It was the first church to be constructed in the name of the Virgin Mary. This church was used as an educational center for Ephesian Christian clergymen. The church and the additions made to it were constructed on top of an already extant long structure. According to an inscription here, this structure had for a long time been a school of medicine, although some archeologists think this structure was not the school of medicine but was a basilica of three naves. The church that was dedicated to Mary underwater many phases of construction. In the first construction phase there were an atrium, resembling a peristle, where the pedestals were covered with inscriptions dating from the Roman Imperial period, a cross-wise narthex and a three naved church, with the middle nave supported by 40 columns on the West side of the church. On the east edge of the middle nave there was a large apse, constructed of ashlar masonry from the Roman Stoa. There were pastophorion chambers on both sides of the apse, where ritual objects were stored. On the northern side of the atrium there was a niched baptistery of octagonal shape with a baptism chamber coveredin marble resembling a “tholos”, and a pool was added to this structure, constructed in the middle of the floor for the baptism of adults. The church, which was demolished in the eartquakes of 557 A.D. was then rebuilt with great changes. In this second phase, the eastern part of the church, whose columns were removed and separated in the middle, was turned into a basilica with a narrow narthex and columns. The western part of the church was rebuilt in a very different way.

The church constructed of bricks had narrow side-naves, a low vault supported by elephant feet and a dome over the middle nave. There were pastophorions on both sides of the apse end, appering like chapels next to the middle nave. An inner narthex (ezonarthex) was added to the western side; consequently a collection of religious buildings were erected, the eastern side was given to the Bishop, the western side to the congregation. The Bishop’s Church was used until it was sacked by Muslim raiders in 654/5., However, it is understood from the doors opening to the apse od the brick church that it served as a graveyard until the 11th century and there was a graveyard on the northern side until the 14th century, so this area didnt entirely lose its function and association with Christianity. It began being used as a graveyard during the second construction phase in the second half of the 6th century. From research it is known that only the Bishops were buried in the narthex on the eastern side. Later a large graveyard was created, not only inside the brick structure but also on the outside. The continued use of this cementary into the 14th century shows the Christians were able to continue using their sanctuaries in Ephesus, even after Ephesus came under the rule of the Aydınoğulları Emitare. On the 22nd of June 431 a Council gathered in this church and 195 Bishops participated in this Council where, amongst other issues, the divine and human nature of Jesus Christ was discussed, and it is certain that the Church of Ephesus, which earned a good reputation for housing the deliberations of this Ecumenical Council, was the Church of Mary. At this Council the question as to wheather Mary was the Mother of God or not was put forward for discussion and the Bishop of Constantinople (Istanbul), Nestorius, stirred up a hornet’s nest and was excommunicated when he said that Jesus Chist was not the son of God but merely a good man. The Patriarch of Alexandria, Cyrillus (Cyril), defended the understanding that Jesus Christ had one personality but two entities and that Mary was actually the Mother of God. In conclusion, the views of Cyrillus were favored and the theology that stated Jesus Christ had a divine form and Mary was the Mother of God were confirmed by this Ecumenical Council. Recent research indicates the Chiristian structures were constructed in this place after 431 and that the whole of the Council or just a part of it may have taken place in the adapted stoa; as at that time this was not yet the Church of Mary. The Council records, compiled at a considerably later date, that indicate the Council gathered in a place called the Church of Mary, conflict with the archaeological evidence and this will only be resolved after the thorough examination of the latest philological and archeological evidence. (In 1967 Pope Paul IV, who visited Ephesus, prayed in this church).