One, among the most holiest shrines in all of Christendom was hidden and unknown for centuries, until 1891 when it was found by a determined French nun.
Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey (1837-1915) is a woman who had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
And this devotion eventually led her to search for the home of Mary in Ephesus, in modern-day Turkey.
According to tradition, we believe that after the dying of Jesus, He entrusted Mary to the Apostle John, and the two settled in Ephesus some time after the Resurrection. The both lived in Ephesus for several years, until God assumed Mary into heaven.
Actually, the home where they lived was lost to history until when Sister Marie worked to find and preserve it.
Marie was brought up in a noble family and she entered the community of the Daughters of Charity in 1857 (the same community with St. Catherine Labouré, who received the Miraculous Medal).
She did her first assignment at a French orphanage, where she and six other sisters cared for 55 orphans.
Marie became the head of the Association of the Children of Mary and she loved teaching children to be closely united to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She would always tell the Children, “Be like Mary”.
It was after Ten years, in year 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, that Marie was named superior at an orphanage outside of Paris.
It was a chaotic and dangerous time, but in her 16 years there, Sister Marie did not disappoint her orphans and her sisters. She went further to build a second orphanage, and used her own family resources to cater for the children and her sisters.
Sister Marie then responded to Pope Leo XIII’s call for French missionaries to help in the Middle East. In the year 1886, she was assigned to a French hospital in Smyrna (now Izmir), Turkey.
The hospital was in a very pathetic condition, and Sister Marie again used her own family funds to make improvements for the patients and staff, while she lived her life in poverty.
It was during her time Smyrna that she read the writings of German mystic Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich on the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John at Ephesus.
The writings of Emmerich are based on visions she had about the life of Mary, including visions of Mary’s house.
Sr. Marie began a mission to find the site, as she was convinced that this sacred site must be located and honored. She pleaded with two priest to read the writings of Blessed Anne, and the three of them made a determination that the house would have existed just a short distance from where they were all providentially assigned.
The first search to find Mary’s house took place in July 1891. The group, which made up of the priests, Sr Marie, and guides, went by donkey and they used the book of Blessed Anne of private revelations as their map. And they believed to had found the house on July 29.
Under the guidance of Sister Marie, archaeologists identified the ruins of a 1st-century home, with a church from the 4th century having been built over it.
Sister Marie received permission to purchase the property in her name on Oct. 21, 189.
She went further to ask her father for the money needed to buy not only the area of the house, but the entire mountain on which the house stands. So she purchased the property on Nov. 15, 1892. And she then worked tirelessly to restore the house, making it a place of pilgrimage.
Sister Marie stayed in this place, caring for Muslims and Christians, until her death.
Sister Marie led a life of detachment, virtue, obedience and charity. Her cause of beatification was made open on Jan. 21, 2011, in the Diocese of St. Joseph-Kansas City, Missouri.
The cause of beautification started in Missouri because it was impossible for the Archdiocese of Smyrna, Turkey, to do all of the work necessary for the cause due to small staff, few resources and terror threats.
Pope Leo XIII encouraged Christians to visit the site, declaring it a place of pilgrimage. Pope St. John XXIII granted plenary indulgences upon the house of Mary for all time on Aug. 18, 1961.
More than 1 million people visit this site every year even the Popes, Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI each made trips there. For Christians and also for many others around the world, this site is a sacred place to visit.