The Queen of Anatolia
by Joy Stocke and Angie Brenner (Excerpted from the Memoir, Anatolian Days & Nights)
“Everything we see in the world is the creative work of women.”
Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, Founder of the Republic of Turkey
Cybele – Mother Goddess of Anatolia (Turkey)
Courtesy of the Anatolian Civilizations Museum, Ankara, Turkey
The little girl’s voice vibrates in the chill morning air. In a navy-blue woolen dress and brown tights bunched at her ankles, she tentatively crosses the courtyard, tears shining on her cheeks. “An-neh!”
A woman breaks from a group of mothers standing at the ticket booth. In a storm-grey headscarf and black, double-breasted, ankle-length coat, she hurries toward her daughter scolding her indulgently before scooping her into her arms to kiss away the tears.
The call of a lost child seeking her an-neh, her mother, seems a fitting welcome to Ankara, home of the Anatolian Civilizations Museum, which holds one of the world’s greatest collections of sculpture and art dedicated to the mother goddess. Long before the rise of Judaism, Christianity and Islam people worshipped the Great Mother who had many names: Artemis, Aphrodite, Cybele, Diana. The Greeks named the land now called Turkey, Anatolia, in honor of her incarnation as Anat, goddess of the rising sun. And from that goddess, the word Anne – Mother – entered the Turkish vocabulary.
I have loved the goddess in her incarnation as the Virgin Mary since I was a child and credit my Catholic upbringing for my affection. At Sunday Mass, I often sat in a pew near a niche that contained her statue, her marble body robed in a sea-blue cloak, her rosy-cheeked son Jesus sitting on her lap. While the priest went through the rituals of the Mass, I smiled back at her, because surely the kind and compassionate smile on her face was put there for me.
“I’m so sorry about your son,” I would whisper, trying to imagine what it was like to be told you will bear the son of God and that one day you would watch him nailed to a cross and tortured to death. On the first of May, with the other girls of the parish, I would dressed in white to celebrate her, laying roses on the altar and singing, “Salve Regina, Hail to the Queen.”
Angie’s interest in the mother goddess followed a different path. Raised Protestant by a Catholic mother and Dutch Reform father, Angie asked questions that were never fully answered. For instance, outside of the birth story of Jesus, why was Mary ignored?
When we began traveling to the Mediterranean region, we discovered that Mary has a long line of ancestresses, goddesses who, for good and ill, held sway over the mortals in their midst.
Byzantine Icon, Virgin Mary
And so, on a morning in May, far from Ankara in Central Turkey, we find ourselves on a shaded hill near the town of Ephesus in front of a Byzantine house made of stone. Tradition says that Meryemanna, Mother Mary, the Blessed Virgin, spent the final years of her life here.
To thousands of pilgrims, it makes no difference that the house was built three centuries after Mary’s death. Or that it wasn’t discovered until the nineteenth century when a bedridden German woman, who had never visited Turkey, saw it in a vision.
Inspired by the German woman’s description of a house constructed of stone blocks with rounded arches, a priest from the nearby port city of Izmir traveled to Ephesus and found an abandoned house nestled in a pine grove overlooking the Aegean Sea. In 1967, Pope John Paul VI canonized the house as the official residence of Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, and as her final resting place.
Does it really matter whether the house belonged to the Virgin Mary or not? Muslims as well as Christians make pilgrimages there to honor her. Inside her house, inscriptions from the Q’uran flow across the walls in Arabic calligraphy. Following a tradition stretching back to their nomadic and shamanistic past, Muslim worshippers tie white strips of cloth to a tree near her house so their prayers may be answered.
In 451 CE, the Council of Chalcedon awarded Mary Christianity’s highest honor, the title of Airoparthenos, Ever-Virgin, one who never had intercourse in order to conceive her son.
Her foremothers would have been shocked. In their time, procreation was held as a mystery of greatest importance in the endless cycle of renewal and birth. A goddess could mother hundreds of children and still be called a virgin.
Modernity, however, can be deceptive; and in this case even comforting. In a secular Muslim Republic, Turkish children evoke her name hundreds of thousands of times a day whenever they call for their anne.
House of the Virgin Mary, Ephesus, Turkey, ephesusguide.com
Joy E. Stocke is Editor in Chief of Wild River Review. The essay above is an excerpt from the memoir, Anatolian Days & Nights, A Love Affair with Turkey, co-written with Angie Brenner to be published in 2011.
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