The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G. Part 49.


Nothing has come down to us of the abode of Mary at Ephesus; bat this void is easily explained by the incessant occupations of that period. After the resurrection of our Saviour, the apostles, occupied exclusively with the propagation of the faith, considered as secondary matter all that was not directly and prominently connected with that absorbing subject. Full of their high mission, entirely devoted to the salvation of souls, they so completely forgot themselves as to have hardly left us a small number of incomplete documents on the evangelical labours which changed the face of the globe; so that their history is more like some epitaph, sublime, but almost effaced, which has neither beginning nor end. That the Mother of Jesus shared the lot of the apostles is readily conceived; the latter years of her life were spent far away from Jerusalem, in a foreign country, where her abode was not marked by any striking fact, offering only a blank surface, which has left no lasting impression on the fugitive memory of men. Nevertheless, the flourishing state of the Church of Ephesus, its tender devotion to Mary, and the praises which St. Paul gives to its piety, sufficiently indicate the fruitful care of the Virgin, and the divine benedictions which followed her wherever she was. The Rose of Jesse left some little of its perfume in the air, and this vestige, slight as it was, is a precious revelation of its passage.

The coasts of Asia Minor, studded with opulent cities, rich in wonderful vegetation, and bathed by a sea ploughed in every sense by a multitude of vessels, would have appeared to ordinary exiles a splendid compensation for the lofty and barren mountains of Palestine. It is doubtful if the Virgin of Nazareth judged thus: the footsteps of the Man-God had not sanctified this enchanted ground, and the tombs of her forefathers were not there! . . . . How often, seated beneath a plane tree, on the shore of that beautiful Icarian Sea, the waves of which expire at the feet of myrtles upon a narrow belt of sand, did Mary and Magdalen call up recollections of their native country, as they followed with their eyes some Greek galley whose prow was turned towards Syria! The spotless snows of Libanus, the blue tops of Carmel, the waters of the Lake of Tiberias, then revived in their conversations; the sites of the absent country, embellished by distance, passed by turns before them, and seemed to them a thousand times preferable to that soft and smiling Ionia, which was in fact to the land of Jehovah what the lyre of Anacreon is to the harp of David.

It was during her abode at Ephesus, that the Virgin lost the faithful companion who, in imitation of Ruth, had left her country and her people to follow her beyond the seas: Magdalen died, and Mary wept for her, as Jesus had wept for Lazarus. 1

Of all her ties of affection and relationship, there remained to the Virgin none but St. John, the good and amiable disciple to whom her dying Son had bequeathed her; she' followed him, as it is believed, in his journeys ; and it was, no doubt, in his conversations with the Queen of prophets that St. John completed the wonderful knowledge which he displays in his gospel. Assisted by the lights of Her whom the Fathers have compared to the golden candlestick with seven branches, the young fisherman of Bethsaida penetrated farther than any one into the incomprehensible mystery of the uncreated essence of the Word, and his thought soared up with a flight so bold into the mystic heights of heaven, that in comparison with him the other evangelists seem only to graze the earth. 2

Meanwhile the sowers of Christ had scattered the good seed of the sacred word over all points of the Roman world ; the gospel harvest was green, and the workmen of the Householder laboured earnestly in the holy field. Mary judged that her mission upon earth was accomplished, and that the Church could henceforth support itself by its own strength. Then, like a wearied labourer in the harvest, who seeks shade and repose in the middle of the day, she began to sigh for the fair shade of the tree of life, which grows near the throne of the Lord, and for the living and sanctifying streams which water it. 3 He who sounds the depths of the soul met this desire in the heart of his Mother, and the angel who stands at his right Hand came to announce to the future Queen of Heaven that her Son had graciously heard her. 4

At this divine revelation, which was accompanied, according to Nicephorus, with that of the day and hour of her decease, the daughter of Abraham felt the love of her absent country powerfully revive in her heart; she wished to behold again the lofty mountains of Judea,—where the recollections of redemption were still lively,—and to die in sight of Calvary, where Jesus had died. St. John, to whom her slightest desires had ever been commands, immediately prepared to depart and return to Palestine.

The Hebrew travellers probably embarked at Miletus, the famous port of which was the resort of the galleys of Europe and Asia, which navigated those seas. During their voyage on the Grecian seas, the Virgin and the Evangelist recognised as they passed, the island of Chios, the people of which, who long possessed the empire of the sea, were the first to introduce the odious custom of purchasing slaves, a custom which the gospel was gradually to abolish ; then Lesbos, the country of the lyric poets, where the hymn to the Virgin most pure was to succeed the burning odes of Sappho, and the more manly songs of Alceus. On seeing the top of the temple of Esculapius rounding in the clouds, which attracted an immense concourse of strangers to the island of Cos, the Mother of the Saviour of men was reminded of her divine Son, who, during his sojourning upon earth, had employed his divine power in curing the sick on the spot, and raising the dead to life. 5 Delos, the cradle of Apollo, Rhodes, the birthplace of Jupiter, arose in turn from the midst of the waters, with their verdant mountains and their antique temples, quite peopled with gods, soon to be banished to the infernal regions by the God crucified on Golgotha. At some distance from Cyprus, a black peak was distinguishable in the clouds, traced upon the velvet blue of heaven; it was the mountain where the prophet Elias had erected, in ancient days, an altar to the future Mother of our Saviour, and where his disciples were on the point of placing themselves under her helping protection. The next day, the galley entered with oars a port of Syria, perhaps Sidon, which had frequent commercial intercourse with Palestine, as the sacred books inform us.

1 We ready in some Greek authors of the seventh and following centuries, that after the ascension of Jesus Christ, St. Mary Magdalen accompanied the Virgin and St. John to Ephesus; that she died in that city, and was buried there. This also is the opinion of Modestus, Patriarch of Jerusalem, who nourished in 920; of St. Gregory of Tours and St. Guillebaud. This last, in the account of his journey to Jerusalem, says that he saw at Ephesus the tomb of St. Magdalen. The Emperor Leo, the philosopher, had the saint's relics translated from Ephesus to Constantinople, and deposited them in the Church of St. Lazarus, about the year b99. Another tradition supported by esteemed men of learning, would have it that St. Mary Magdalen ended her days in Provence; we have adopted the contrary opinion, because it appeared to us the more probable, without, however, deciding the question.

2 The Abbot Rupert (in Cant.) assures us that the Blessed Virgin supplied, by the light she possessed, what the Holy Spirit, who was given by measure to the disciples, had not been pleased to reveal to them; and the holy Fathers all agree that it was from the Blessed Virgin that St. Luke received divers marvellous and particular circumstances of the infancy of Jesus Christ.

Apocal., c. xxii. v. 1, 2.

4 Tradition relates that the Blessed Virgin received the announcement of her approaching death by the ministry of an angel, who informed her of the day and hour.—(Descout, p. 235; F. Croiset, t. xviii. p. 158.)

5 The followers of Mahomet have preserved the memory of the miracles of Jesus Christ. They maintain that the breath of our Lord, which they call " bad Messih " (the breath of the Messias), not only raised the dead, but could even give life to inanimate things.— (D'Herb., Bibl. Or., 1. 1 p. 365.)