Emperor Domitian exiled John to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote Revelation, also known as The Apocalypse. There are pieces of a giant statue of Domitian in the Selçuk Museum, a monstrous baby face reminiscent of the horrifying huge Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters.
After Domitian’s demise John was pardoned and returned to Ephesus, where he lived out the rest of his days. Now the town of Selçuk is modern, built since the late nineteenth century around the aqueduct at the Ephesus railway stop. Its main attractions in old days were the Temple of Artemis and the Citadel. John must have lived there, in house or hut, writing his Gospel up there, howling out the Word in the wind and rain, the searing sun.
He wanted to be buried near the Citadel, and he was. Every other Apostle was martyred, but John was said to have “gone into the cave of his church” and vanished. Of all the saints, John is the one with no relics anywhere. When Constantine, in the 4th century, opened his Tomb, there was nothing but air.
The original church fell to pieces, and in 536 our old friend Byzantine Emperor Justinian started this new one. He built a magnificent six-domed cruciform church echoing the Church of Holy Apostles, now lost, in Constantinople-now-Istanbul.
The love story of Justinian and his Empress Theodora is legendary. The basilica has Theodora’s name all over it, in monograms of capitals on the columns, in the very walls. I find this poignant, as Theodora died in 548 and was buried in Holy Apostles long before St John’s was finished: in 565, the year Justinian died. It was built by Ephesians under Justinian’s edict. Emperor of the greatest High Byzantine monuments, he was a bloody, tax-levying, hubris-ridden autocrat, but it is not farfetched to imagine him lost in contemplation of a reunion with the most compelling of Empresses.
St John’s Basilica would have a long and august history, not to mention miracles.