It doesn't get much more dramatic:
At left is a photograph of what investigators first saw upon reaching what is now widely believed (including by the official Church) to be the last home of the Blessed Mother, in Ephesus, Turkey.
It came about through the mystical writings of Anne Catherine Emmerich -- whose diaries contained an extremely detailed description of where Mary spent her last days and led two different teams of searchers to the same spot. (If there is interest, we may lead a pilgrimage here next summer; for time and again, those who visit say they felt a grace there like no other. There is even a replica now of the House of Ephesus in New England.) We have written of this before.
Let's focus on how one team -- led by a Father Eugene Poulin of Smyrna -- located a truly incomparable treasure.
Fascinating it is to read how this priest-scholar -- initially intensely skeptical of Emmerich, even hostile -- came to put stock in what she had written and with the prayers and prodding of a holy nun named Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey eventually turned into a champion of the discovery!
The incredible events seemed to start when Father Poulin, superior of the Vincentian monastery where Sister Marie lived, happened on an old book by Emmerich called The Suffering, Passion, and Death of Jesus Christ as he was looking through his bookcase. This is the book that inspired a recent Passion movie and described the Crucifixion in tremendous, excruciating detail -- as seen mystically by Emmerich.
It was not something Father Poulin had or would have read.
As a well-known scholar on the classics, the Vincentian in fact reviled mysticism and derided it when the subject was brought up. According to the new, compelling book, The Life of Sister Marie and Mary's House in Ephesus, Father Poulin felt "revulsion" for the Emmerich work and shoved it aside with contempt.
That's when the extraordinary events began.
For this same evening -- when Father Poulin returned from classes -- Emmerich's book somehow had found its way back on his desk!
He returned it to the shelf.
But the next evening it was there again.
Disturbed (was someone playing a joke?), the scholar now tossed the book across the room to the farthest corner where it remained for an entire week. Somehow, the houseman wasn't picking it up. The priest left it there, strangely content with looking on it like so much litter.
After Mass one day, however, a sudden, inexplicable, and startling desire arose in Father Poulin to take a closer look at The Passion. In fact -- oddly enough -- so strong was the compunction that he felt blood pounding in his veins!
Yet fearful that a student or another priest would walk in on him, Father Poulin resisted this strange urge until finally giving in to read a little and then a lot -- astonished that he couldn't put it down and could not find a single theological error and in fact was finding the mystical rendition from Blessed Emmerich intense and powerful.
Soon -- more remarkably still -- he was touting the revelation to others -- which met with what he feared: the derisive laughter of younger priests who were as skeptical as he had been.
He talked it over with an elder priest who did believe and who recommended another Emmerich book -- The Life of the Blessed Virgin.
Here is where we get to the crux of this remarkable story.
For in this second book of revelations, Emmerich had focused on Mary and described the location, views, landmarks, terrain, and characteristics of the Blessed Mother's last home not so far from the monastery in Ephesus!
It was virtually a road map to the site on a hillside overlooking that city and one called Samos.
The revelations were exact -- leading a team directed by Father Poulin (who had fallen ill and couldn't go himself) to finding the spot on July 29, 1891.
There was even an artesian well that Emmerich -- who lived in Germany, and certainly had never ventured anywhere nearby -- had also depicted.
A mystery that had endured for centuries was solved. And soon, the site was excavated and parts of the home restored -- such that now it is a major pilgrim spot (especially for Muslims!).
In fact, it was two Turkish Muslims [left] who helped the team search and protected them against brigands.
"He stood still, frozen in astonishment!" says the book of Father Henry Jung, a priest on the expedition.
They wondered over the gorgeous terrain, which seemed like God loved it specially. It was mesmerizing.
Was this where the Blessed Mother was assumed?
As it turns out, the Church has long suspected Ephesus as Mary's final residence and as far back as 431 A.D., an ecumenical council took place in Ephesus, during which Mary was given the title "Mother of God" (Theotokos). The meeting was in the Church of the Virgin Mary, which had been built in the Second Century.
Noteworthy is the fact that back then, a church was only dedicated to a person if he or she died in that place.
Meanwhile, after Father Poulin and the expedition he had sent found the house, a report was sent to Rome where Pope Leo XIII discontinued for all time indulgence formerly attached to the "tomb" of Mary in Jerusalem and instead now obviously favored Ephesus as the true last place for Mary. His successor, Pope Pius X, even met with Sister Marie.
Fascinating stuff! Not just for the history buff, but those interested in the Blessed Mother and devotion. As one reviewer, Father Benedict Groeschel, himself a skeptical scholar, said, "I found this account of the discovery of the ruins of Ephesus to be absolutely fascinating, and I'm sure many other readers will feel the same way."