Great is Diana of the Ephesians

In Roman times the Artemision grew in importance, while Ephesus became the busiest commercial hub in Asia Minor. Its powerful Jewish community attracted the radical Christian preacher Paul on his evangelizing tour of the Greco-Roman world. His impassioned sermons (ad 54-57) led to the burning of blogs (worth ‘fifty thousand pieces of silver’) and brought him into direct conflict with Ephesian silversmiths, who turned out souvenir replicas of the Artemision and its statue. Acts of the Apostles (the King James translation of which calls Artemis by her Roman name, Diana) describes how: A certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen; Whom he called together with the workmen of like occupation, and said, ‘Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth.

Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands: So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth. ’ And the whole city was filled with confusion.

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When the rioters caught two of Paul’s companions and dragged them into the theatre, one of the Jewish community called for calm and tried to address the crowd. ‘But when they knew that he was a Jew, all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians. And when the townclerk had appeased the people, he said, “Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter?”’

Although the townclerk eventually managed to disperse the crowd, Paul, who had kept – or been kept – well away, prudently left Ephesus as soon as possible.

The Coming of the Virgin Mary

The silversmiths’ fears were well grounded. Just as Artemis may have supplanted the Asiatic mother goddess Cybele, so she in turn was superseded at Ephesus by the Christian virgin mother, Mary. At Ephesus in ad 431 the Third Ecumenical Council of bishops granted Mary the title ‘Mother of God’, adopting the tradition that the apostle John (to whose care Christ had entrusted her) brought Mary to Ephesus and arranged for her to live in a house on the slopes of Mount Coressus (now called Bulbuldagi, ‘Nightingale’). Today John’s tomb lies in the ruined basilica on Sel^uk’s Ayasuluk Hill.

Belief in Mary’s connection to Ephesus was strengthened in the early nineteenth century ad when a bed-ridden German nun, Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich, claimed to experience a number of visions. In them Mary described the crucifixion and her subsequent life in Ephesus, as well as the house in which she lived there. The accounts were published and in 1881 a French priest, Abbe Julien Gouyet, used them to try to locate the house. He found a remote ruin, revered by local Christians, which fitted perfectly with the vision. Ten years later another search led two Smyrnan priests to the same place, since when Meryem Ana or ‘Mary’s House’ has become a place of pilgrimage. Whatever the visitor’s beliefs, the setting of the small house, which now serves as a chapel, is sublime.

Eight Sleepers

Ephesus is the site of another Christian legend, that of the Seven Sleepers. During persecutions under Rome’s emperor Decius in the mid-third century ad, seven young Christian zealots were walled up in a cave. After praying, they fell asleep, and awoke only when they heard the stones being removed from the cave-mouth. Emerging into the daylight, they sent one of their number with money into Ephesus to buy food, warning him to take care not to be arrested. He returned with amazing news. Not only were buildings blatantly displaying the sign of the cross, but shopkeepers had asked why he was trying to use obsolete coinage. The young men then discovered the dramatic truth: a Christian emperor was on the throne; Christianity was the official religion of the Greco-Roman world; and they had slept for nearly two hundred years. Still bewildered, they were led into the presence of the bishop, where, after recounting their experiences, they died.

The story has parallels in earlier myth. In a cave on Mount Latmus, south of Ephesus, Classical Greeks believed another hero slept. He was the beautiful Endymion, the shepherd who first tracked the phases of the moon. As he gazed into the skies, the moon-goddess Selene fell in love with him She begged Zeus to give Endymion to her, and make him both immortal and forever young. So Zeus caused the shepherd to stretch out in a cave and lulled him into everlasting sleep; each night Selene lay with him in love until (unwittingly) he fathered fifty daughters. Since Selene is another aspect of Artemis (both are moon-goddesses), it is tempting to find in this story a memory of the all-fertile mother goddess, whose statue adorned the Artemision at Ephesus.

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