Just as Mary mothered Jesus through his terrible twos, contrary adolescence, and into adulthood, she is among those nurturing and tending the young church.
While scripture has little else to say about Mary’s retirement, Christian tradition offers us additional stories about Mary’s adventures following the resurrection. In fact, there is such a rich store of extra-biblical legends about Mary that they sometimes bump against each other. There are multiple sites which all claim to be the location of Mary’s last decades of life, her death, and her bodily assumption into heaven: two in Jerusalem, one in France, and one on a mountain near Ephesus, Turkey. As pilgrims we visited this last location: the House of the Virgin Mary located at the top of Mt. Koressos.
Once again, our Bible has nothing to say regarding Mary’s retirement to Asia Minor now Turkey. What we do have is Jesus’ commendation of Mary into the care of his disciple John from the cross and the visions of at 18th century mystic.
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27).
From this passage we learn that in the face of unbelievable loss, John, the beloved disciple, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, adopted each other. John is believed to have traveled to Ephesus to spread the gospel, naturally taking his adopted mother Mary with him. So some say.
Enter the mystic. Anne Catherine Emmerich, a Roman Catholic nun lived from 1774 to 1824. During her life she experienced a number of visions about the Virgin Mary, which were published after her death. In the late 19th century these visions led to the discovery of a small house on the top of Mt. Koressos. And pilgrims have been pilgriming there ever since.
Even before the Holy Spirit was tearing through Jerusalem setting everyone’s hair on fire, the church has been about creating family in the face of loss. At the foot of the cross, John was there for Mary to cling to as her son hung in agony. Mary was there for John weep with as he watched his friend dying by inches. Jesus saw this sharing of pain and sanctified it from the cross: “Woman, here is your son.”
The House of the Virgin Mary honors this kind of love, the love of people who have been placed, drawn, or even thrown together, and are richer for it. For instance, Mary’s House is a unique holy site in that it is visited and cared for by both Christians and Muslims, since both faiths honor Mary.
Our visit began with a visit to Mary’s House itself. We were given a chance to enter, pray, and light a candle if the Spirit so moved us. From there we gathered for a brief worship service nearby. We read the Annunciation where Mary learns that she will conceive and give birth to the Messiah followed by Jesus’ commendation of Mary into John’s care from the cross. We talked about what it meant to love and care for one another in the face of loss. We sang the Magnificat, and celebrated the Lord’s supper.
Afterwards we went down a series of steps to a sacred spring believed to have healing qualities. Near by, there is a wall where both Christians and Muslims are able to write down prayers on bits of ribbon and tie them to a wall. At Mary’s House, our longings are named together.