High on the slope of Mount Bülbül ("Nightingale Mountain") near Ephesus sits a little stone house with a freshwater spring and a pretty garden. Believed by many to have been the house of the Virgin Mary before she passed, the site is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year.

The Story of the House of the Virgin Mary

Way back in 1824, a German nun who lay on her death bed had visions of a little stone house in a clearing in the woods of a faraway land we now call Turkey. She insisted the house was built by the Apostle John for the Virgin Mary in her retirement years. Although the nun had never travelled beyond her own country's borders, Sister Emmerich described the scene in great detail – including the small house, a fresh water spring, and nearby tombs - to a well-known scribe named Clemens Brentano. In 1852, the story was published, which inspired several members of the Catholic Church to search for the site.

In 1881, a site matching the description in Brentano's book was discovered by a curious French priest. And that kicked off a long and complicated process of acquiring, excavating, studying, and restoring what is believed by many, to be the house of the Virgin Mary.

By 1949, the site was welcoming thousands of visitors a year – a mixture of the devout and the simply curious - from all over the world, and now hosts hundreds of thousands of people a year. There are regular daily and Sunday Masses, and a larger celebration is observed on August 15 each year, the day recognized by the Christian world as the day of Mary's Assumption into Heaven.

Unfortunately, when the Vatican was investigating the story of Sister Emmerich for her beatification, they discovered that Brentano had taken some "creative liberties" when writing her story. Not a word-for-word transcription as many had first believed, Brentano had enhanced the dying nun's description of the site with information he'd gleaned from various maps and travel guides about the area around Ephesus. Unable to determine which parts of the story matched the nun's actual vision, and which parts were poetic licence by Brentano, the church investigators was unable to confirm the validity of Sister Emmerich's visions. (Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich was eventually beatified for her good works and stigmata, rather than her visions of the house where Mary spent her final days.)

The Facts As We Know Them

The Truth: Did Mary Actually Live and Die Here?

We'll probably never know the truth – and, in its essence, that's what faith is all about. Whether you're a devout believer, a sceptic, or an agnostic, there's no denying the peaceful site we call the House of the Virgin Mary is a lovely place for quiet reflection and contemplation.

Exploring the Holy Site On Your Own

We enjoyed our visit to the House of the Virgin Mary and will likely return again the next time we're in the area.

Sources for this article