Over its long and varied history Ephesus has been home to numerous civilizations, from its role in founding the Ancient Greek Ionian League in tenth century BCE, to its prominence second only to Constantinople fourteen hundred years later under the Byzantium Empire, Ephesus was long important to the region while it was a port city.
Such accessibility to ships could only have been attractive to the Apostle Paul when he travelled with his congregation to Ephesus in 50 CE during his second missionary journey. Despite being established under a Roman Empire that was hostile to the relatively new religion and prone to imprison and execute Christian clergy, the city would go on to become a hot bed of missionary activity and home to one of their strongest churches. It’s here that Paul has his dispute with the artisans selling statuettes of Artemis in the temple (Acts 19:23-41), and where he would write 1 Corinthians.
Forty years after the church’s founding it’s believed the Gospel of John might have also been written in Ephesus, and that even Mary may have spent the last years of her life there, thanks to the visions of Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich in the nineteenth century which led to discovery of the House of the Virgin Mary just north of Ephesus. While the Roman Catholic Church has never made a pronouncement on the authenticity of the house, it has still become an important Catholic pilgrimage site, with visits by various popes over the last century.
It’s even believed to be the city of the Seven Sleepers, saints according to both the Catholics and Orthodox Christians, even mentioned in the Qur’an, who in escaping persecution under the reign of Emperor Decius, hid in some caves just outside of Ephesus, but woke the next morning to find themselves three hundred years in the future, under the rule of a much more Christian friendly emperor.