What Pilgrims Leave and What a Traveler Takes

Mary's House in Ephesus

Mary’s house is typically very crowded. But when I visited the place thought to be the site of the last home of Mary, as in, the mother of Jesus, I tried to find a way to focus on something other than the throngs. I noticed, for instance, the cool and pretty approach to the house, all shaded by olive trees, and the peaceful exit, illuminated even in daylight by candles flickering.

The small brick chapel in Ephesus, Turkey is a reconstruction, built in the 1950s. Apparently archaeologists found that the foundation of the site’s original structure dates back to the 6th or 7th century. Of course, this would be several hundred years too late for Mary, whose son’s birth marks the beginning of the calendar.  I’ve read that there was other archaeological evidence (coal, for instance) that suggests this place was inhabited in the 1st century.

But why quibble over a few centuries, give or take?  Places like Mary House are not about facts, they’re about faith.

Soon after you leave Mary’s House, you come across a wall that from a distance appears to be covered in  feathers, or mounded with whipped cream. It’s actually knots of cloth, mostly white.  In my memory, the knotted fabric was simply a memento left by visitors, to show that they had been there, a soft sort of graffiti.

I have traveled a lot in January: Paris and Bordeaux, Houston, and tomorrow, Washington D.C.  (It’s now February, I realize, but I don’t feel the change of month in my bones — it seems like one continuous flow of travel time.)

I have taken in so much from these journeys — photos and notes, primarily; foie gras and the bark of barbecued brisket, secondarily; and boxes of macaron glace and pralines as souvenirs for my husband. But I have left nothing behind, really, besides my money.

I woke up thinking of that fabric wall at Mary’s House today, and how nice it would have been to have left some sort of a gentle mark on the places I’ve just visited, which have made some sort of a mark on me. (What sort of mark do I bear? That’s unclear to me as of yet.)

But when I revisited my photos of Mary’s House today, I found that the knotted fabric left at Mary’s House was not simply a mark of having been, but actually a means of fastening to the wall a note of prayer.

Of course. Pilgrims often leave written prayers.

While I do hope my journeys will eventually add up to some greater meaning, I am not a pilgrim. The notes that I write when I travel are to myself — and these I carry back with me.

Prayer Wall at Mary's House, Ephesus

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Photo credit: Alison Stein Wellner.

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