The Church of St. John
According to the historian Eusebios, St. John returned to Ephesus with Mary after being banished from Jerusalem between 37 and 42 A.D. He continued to write the Bible after the execution od St. Paul and after a period he died here at Ephesus. Following his will, he was buried in the sothern foothills of Ayasuluk Hill. First a wooden-roofed Early Christian Church was constructed in the 5th century over a simple graveyard and crypts were established within this church. In the middle of the 6th century, a monumental cross-in-plan basilica with domes was constructed by Emperor Justinianus ( Jutinian ) replacing this earlier church. With the moving of the Ephesians to Ayasuluk, the Basilica of St. John took over the position of the earlier Bishop’s Church at Ephesus.
Ayasuluk Hill was encircled with walls constructed in the 7th century A.D. to protect the basilica and the related structures against Muslim raids. The material collected from the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, which had been largely demolished, were reused in the construction of these walls. The outer part of the walls was also constructed from material brought from other structures at Ephesus; its inner parts were filled with mortar and rubble stone and it was lined with towers to increase its strength. In the construction of these supporting towers, a pentagonal plan was generally employed; with a circular plan used in the West and tetragonal plan in the South. The wall had a total of four Gates and twenty towers. The strong, main entrance gate in the South was known as the “Gate of Pursuit”. There were two square-in-plan towers on either side of this gate. There was an arched entrance in the middle of these two towers. On the arch there were a frieze with ivy, figures of Eros gathering grapes in the vineyard and a piece of a tomb which had a carved relief of grape vines. In the 19th century a second piece of this tomb, which depicted young girls narrating “the recognition of Achilles by Odysseus among the daughters of King Lykomedes on the Island of Skiros” and armed men, was taken to England and is today in the Museum at
Woburn Abbey. Two phases of construction were observed in the walls surrounding and supporting the Basilica. The first of these phases was the construction of an additional terrace to the church during the reign of Justinianus, with Stones and bricks employed in the construction of these walls. The second phase, comprised those walls constructed as a defence against Muslim raids in the 7-8th century A.D., with the inner parts of these walls filled with mortar and rubble stone. The Basilica, which is of a cross plan, is 130 m. long and was entered through the Narthex Gate.
There were five Gates from the narthex leading into the middle and side naves. It had a court (atrium) which was covered, with supporting columns in its middle. The middle and side naves were covered by 6 domes. These domes covered the burial grounds with the middle dome larger and higher than the others. The columns separating the naves were monoliths of blue marble. On the Byzantine Ionic capitals were carved the monograms of Emperor Justinianus and his wife Theodora. These monograms provide proof thatthe Emperor contributed to the construction of this church. There was a large ambon in front of the dais in the middle nave. The dais or burial grounds were two steps higher than the floor of the church. It ıs known that one of them belonged to St. John. There was a crypt under the dais. There were three tombs in the crypt, one of which is understood to have belonged to St. John. The chapel, having been constructed outside the northern transept and planned together with the Office of Revenues, was actually turned into a chapel in the 10-11th century and the depictions in the apse, of St. John on the right; Jesus Christ in the middle and an unknown Saint on the left, are in a very well preserved condition.
The Office of Revenues, situated to the left of the chapel, was a two-storey structure with a centralized plan. There were cross-in-plan parts and corner rooms surrounding the circular area in the middle. The sacred relics and treasures of the church were stored within these rooms. Furthermore a Baptistry was constructed in the 5th century A.D., with the basilica, with the remains of the wooden roof belonging to the period prior to the reign of Justinianus still to be seen today as, when the new church was constructed, it was preserved and its function continued. The apsed chamber to the east was the sacred chamber in which prayers after baptisms were performed. The central area of the Baptistry is reached from the western door of this octagonal-in-plan structure. There was a circular pool for baptism in the middle of the floor, with the sides of this pool consisting of stairs of three steps. The adjacent square pool was where the sacred water was kept. The apsed chamber to the far West, a symmetrical copy of that in the east, was used for the same purpose.