ST JOHN’S BASILICA looks like it has been picked up and dropped.
The vast rambling ruin of St John’s Basilica was demolished by earthquake, ravaged by marauders, scavenged by later builders. Huge jagged chunks of sixth-century masonry rear at improbable angles. Columns march in all directions, supporting nothing, reassembled and re-erected by the Turkish Government. Hordes of Christian pilgrims stagger in the heat, a babble of guides in all languages, and I crouch in the weeds to draw this:
It’s my favorite capital. Rows of them are set out in a field. Nearby, storks nest in season– this time of year, they’re off to Africa. The tombstone at left is likely a gladiator who converted and died rich. Here’s a drawing from years ago showing the same capital, this time with storks.
Selçuk is near the Biblical city of Ephesus, about ten minutes by car from the Aegean Sea. Ephesus was rediscovered in the 19th century and somewhat reconstructed. It’s big tourist business. It seems like every travel agency pushes Ephesus tourists to stay in nearby Kusadasi, which is great if you like rampant development, traffic, clubs and stores, but I’ll put my money on Selçuk–in English: Selchuk. It’s got the Selchuk Museum, full of Ephesus, with its statues and gladiator tombstones. It’s got storks nesting on a Byzantine aqueduct. It’s got great tribal art stores and hotels. It’s got St John’s Basilica, and above it the Citadel.
And it’s got Female Power. At the edge of town is the Great Temple of Artemis, a swamp the size of a football field, filled with broken marble, the ruined seat of power for the great Goddess of Asia Minor: the place where it all began. The Great Temple, a wonder of the ancient world, was burned so long ago that Alexander the Great had it restored. Centuries later it fell in an earthquake.
The Goddess Artemis, the Great Mother Goddess of the Near East, appears to be a previous incarnation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, having much in common with her: powerful purity; attributes in Holy Trinities- three griffins, three bulls, three bees, etc; affinity with nature and birth; affinity with the moon, ancient source of female power; powerful, self-sufficient, life-creating sexuality. Priests of both dedicate their sexuality to the Goddess. And of course, physical proximity. The Blessed Virgin Mary lived a few miles away. I’ve come to see them as a sort of double Goddess, which in no way detracts from the mystic power of either diety, I just find it fascinating. But the overwhelming presence for me on this trip has been St John the Apostle. His huge ruined basilica dominates the town, topped by the Citadel above. All of it is built on remnants of much older religions: layers of faith.