Mary’s “Holy Way of the Cross” Near Ephesus. She Visits Jerusalem
In the neighborhood of her dwelling, the Blessed Virgin had herself erected the Stations of the Holy Way of the Cross. I saw her at first going alone and measuring off all the special points of the bitter Passion according to the number of steps which, after the death of her Son, she had so often counted. At the end of each definite number, she raised a memorial stone in remembrance of the special suffering there endured by her Divine Son. I saw her with a sharp instrument, a stylus, recording what there had taken place and how many steps it was to it. If a tree happened to be standing on that particular spot, she marked it as one of the Stations, of which there were twelve. The way led to a grove, and there was the Holy Sepulcher represented by a cave in the side of a hill. After all the Stations were definitively marked, the Blessed Virgin made the Holy Way with her maid in silent meditation. When they reached a Station, they sat down, meditated upon the mystery and its signification, and prayed. By degrees, the whole route was improved and more beautifully arranged. John gave orders for regular monuments to be set up. I saw also the cave representing the Sepulcher being cleared out and made more suitable for prayer. The memorial stones lay in hollows of greater or less depth, which were covered with grass and flowers and surrounded by a hedge. They were of polished white marble. The thickness of the underlying surface could not be seen, on account of the grass. The Faithful, when performing this devotion, carried a cross about a foot in length with a support which they placed in the little hollow on the upper surface of the stone while they were meditating, either kneeling or prostrate on their face. The path that ran in a hollow around the stone was wide enough for two persons to walk side by side. There were twelve such stones. When the devotion was ended, each was covered with a mat. The sides and base of all bore similar inscriptions in Hebrew characters, but the hollow places in which they rested differed, some being larger, others smaller. The First Station, or that of the Mount of Olives, was in a little vale. There was a small cave in it, in which several could kneel together. The Mount Calvary Station was the only one not in a hollow. It was on a hill. For that of the Holy Sepulcher, one had to cross another hill on whose opposite side stood the memorial stone in a hollow. Thence one descended to the foot of the hill and into the tomb itself, in which later on Mary’s remains rested. I think this tomb is still in existence under the surface of the earth, and that it will come to light someday.
Whenever I saw Mary making the Holy Way of the Cross, she wore an over garment that fell in folds down the back as far as the feet. It was laid over the shoulders and was fastened under the collar by a button. It was girded round the waist, thus taking in the brownish under dress. It appeared to be a festal robe, for in accordance with ancient Jewish customs, a similar one had been worn also by Anne. Her hair was concealed under a yellowish cap, which was pointed on the forehead and gathered together in folds at the back of the head. A black veil of soft material hung down far below the waist. In this dress I saw her making the Way of the Cross. She had worn it at the Crucifixion under the mantle of prayer, or mourning, which entirely enveloped her, and she wore it now only when performing this devotion. When at work in the house, she laid it aside.
The Blessed Virgin was now very advanced in years, but she had in her appearance no other mark of age than that of a great longing, which at length effectuated her glorification. She was inexpressibly grave. I never saw her laugh. The older she grew, the whiter and more transparent became her face. She was thin, but I saw no wrinkle, no sign of decay in her. She was like a spirit.
Once I saw the Blessed Virgin and five other women making the Holy Way, along which she went first. She was perfectly white and transparent, indescribably touching to look upon. It seemed to me that she was now making the devotion for the last time. Among the holy women who were praying with her, there were several that had become acquainted with her in the first year of Jesus’ teaching. One was a relative of the Prophetess Anna, and another was the granddaughter of a maternal aunt of Elizabeth. I saw two of the women making the Way of the Cross by turns every morning and evening.
After Mary had lived three years in the settlement near Ephesus, she conceived a great desire to visit Jerusalem, so John and Peter escorted her thither. Several Apostles were there assembled, of whom I remember Thomas. I think it was a Council, and Mary assisted the Apostles with her advice. On her arrival, I saw her in the evening twilight visiting, before she entered the city, the Mount of Olives, Mount Calvary, the Holy Sepulcher, and all the Holy Places around Jerusalem. The Mother of God was so sad, so moved by compassion, that she could scarcely walk. Peter and John supported her under the arms.
A year and a half before her death, she made one more journey from Ephesus to Jerusalem, and I saw her again visiting the Holy Places. She was unspeakably sorrowful, and she continually sighed: “O my Son! My Son!” When she came to the back gate of that palace where she had first seen Jesus passing with the cross and where He fell, she was so agitated by the painful remembrance that she too sank to the ground. Her companions thought her dying. They removed her to Sion, upon which the Coenaculum was still standing, and in one of whose buildings she took up her abode. For several days she appeared to be so weak and so near death that her friends began to think of preparing her a tomb. She herself made choice of a cave on Mount Olivet, and the Apostles had a beautiful tomb built there by a Christian stonecutter. Many were of the opinion that she would really die; and so the report of her death spread abroad. But she recovered sufficient strength to journey back to Ephesus where, a year and a half later, she did indeed die. The tomb prepared for her on Mount Olivet was ever after held in reverence, and at a later period a church was built over it. John Damascene, as I was told in vision, wrote from hearsay that the Blessed Virgin died in Jerusalem and was buried there. Her death, her Assumption into Heaven, and the site of her tomb, as I believe, God has allowed to be subjects of uncertain tradition that the pagan sentiments of the time might not penetrate Christianity, for the Blessed Virgin might otherwise have been adored as a goddess.
The Apostles Arrive to Be Present at the Blessed Virgin’s Death
As the Blessed Virgin felt her end approaching, in accordance with the directions of her Divine Son, she called the Apostles to her by prayer. She was now in her sixty-third year. At the time of Christ’s birth she was in her fifteenth. Before His Ascension Jesus had made known to His most holy Mother what she should say at the end of her earthly career to the Apostles and some of the disciples who should be with her. He told her also that she should bless them, and that it would conduce very much to their welfare and eternal salvation. He entrusted to her also certain spiritual labors for the general good, which being accomplished, her longing after Heaven was to be realized. Jesus had at the same time made known to Magdalen that she was to live concealed in the wilderness, and that Martha was to establish a community of women. He added that He Himself would always be with them.
At the prayer of the Blessed Virgin, the Apostles received, through angels, an admonition to repair to her at Ephesus. In the various places in which they were, they had erected little churches here and there. Many of them were constructed merely of plaited rods, or branches, covered with clay, but all were of the same form as Mary’s house, that is, three-cornered in the back. They were provided with altars for the celebration of Holy Mass. The journeys of the Apostles, so distant, so exceedingly remote, were not made without divine assistance. Although they themselves were perhaps unconscious of it at the time, yet I do not doubt that they passed through many dangers in a supernatural manner. I often saw them walking unnoticed through the midst of a crowd, I have likewise seen that the miracles wrought by them among the various pagan nations were very numerous and of a different kind from those recorded of them in the Holy Scriptures. They labored everywhere according to the peculiar needs of the people. I saw that they carried about them the bones of the Prophets or those of the first Christian martyrs, which relics they placed before them in time of prayer or when offering the Holy Sacrifice.
When called to Mary, Peter was in the region of Antioch with another Apostle. Andrew, who had shortly before been in Jerusalem, but had there been persecuted, was not far from Peter. I saw them both on their way to Ephesus at places not very distant from each other. They passed the nights in those open inns that are met along the roads in hot countries. As Peter was lying one night near a wall, a resplendent youth approached him, took him by the hand, and bade him arise and hasten to Mary. On the way, the youth said, he would meet Andrew. Peter, who had grown stiff from age and fatigue, rose to a sitting posture and, clasping his hands round his knees to support himself, listened to the angel’s words. Then he stood up, put on his mantle, girded himself, took his staff, and started on his journey. He soon came up with Andrew, who had been called by the same apparition. After travelling some distance they were met by Thaddeus, who also had received a similar warning. They journeyed together to Mary, with whom they found John.
Jude Thaddeus and Simon were in Persia when they received their summons, Thomas, who was in stature thick and short and had reddish-brown or auburn hair, was of all the Apostles the farthest off. He arrived only after Mary’s death. When the angel came to call him, he was praying in a hut built of reeds. With one very poor, simple servant, I saw him sailing alone in a little boat far over the waters. Then he journeyed across the country, turning aside from all the cities. A disciple now accompanied
him. Thomas was in India when he received the warning. Before receiving it he had determined to go into Tartary, and he could not bring himself to change his plans. He always wanted to do so much, therefore it was that he was often behind time. So off he started northward almost across China, where Russia now is.1 Here he was called a second time. He obeyed the summons and hurried to Ephesus. The servant with him was a Tartar whom he had baptized. Thomas did not return to Tartary after Mary’s death. He was pierced with a lance in India. I have seen that he set up a stone in this last-named country, upon which he knelt in prayer, and upon which the marks of his knees remained impressed. He told the people that when the sea would reach that stone, another would here preach Jesus Christ.
John had shortly before been in Jericho, for he often journeyed to Palestine, He usually abode in Ephesus, however, and the country around. Bartholomew was in Asia east of the Red Sea. He was handsome and very active, his complexion fair and his forehead high. He had large eyes, black curly hair, and a short, crisp beard, black and parted on the chin. He had already converted a king and all the royal family. Paul was not summoned. Those only were called that were related or acquainted with the Holy Family. Peter, Andrew, and John were the first to reach the Blessed Virgin’s house. She was already near death. She was lying calmly on her couch in her sleeping place. I saw the maidservant looking very sorrowful in this and that corner of the house, also outdoors, where she prayed prostrate with outstretched arms. I saw also two of Mary’s sisters and five disciples coming together to the house. All looked tired and exhausted. They carried staves of various kinds, each according to his rank. They wore, under their hooded mantles of white wool, long albs of the same material fastened all the way down the front with little leather straps slit in the middle over little rolls like buttons. Both mantle and alb were girded high when travelling. Some had a pouch hanging from their girdle at the side. They embraced each other tenderly when they met. Many wept from mingled feelings of joy and sorrow at meeting on such an occasion. On entering the house, they laid aside their mantles, staves, pouches, and girdles; allowed their white robes to fall in broad folds down to their feet, and each put on a wide girdle inscribed with letters, which he had brought with him. Then with deep emotion they drew near Mary’s couch to salute her, though she could now say only a few words. I did not see the travelers taking anything on their arrival, excepting some kind of beverage from a little flask, with which each one came provided. They did not sleep in the house, but outside under light awnings, which were put up on posts against the walls, and which were divided off and enclosed by movable screens and wickerwork.
I saw that the first to arrive prepared in the front apartment of the house a place suitable for prayer and offering the Holy Sacrifice. There was an altar covered with a red and over that a white cloth, and on it stood a Crucifix, white like mother-of-pearl, and in shape like a Maltese cross. The cross could be opened. It contained five compartments, likewise cross-shaped. The middle one held the Most Blessed Sacrament, while the others were intended respectively for chrism, oil, cotton, and salt. It was not quite a span, or nine inches, in length. Each of the Apostles when travelling carried one like it on his breast. It was in this cross that Peter took to Mary the Holy Communion, during the reception of which the Apostles stood bowing low, ranged in two rows from the altar down to her couch. The altar, before which was a stand with rolls of Scripture hanging over it, was not in the center of the front apartment, where the fireplace stood, for that was still in use. It was placed near the wall on the right, and was put up and taken down every day.
When the Apostles went all together into Mary’s little sleeping chamber in order to take leave of her, they wore their long white albs and broad mantles. The screens that separated the front from the back of the house had been removed. The disciples and holy women remained standing in the front apartment. I saw that Mary sat upright, that the Apostles knelt in turn at the side of her couch, and that she prayed over each and blessed him with her hands laid upon him crosswise. She did the same to the disciples and to the women. One of the latter, who stood quite bent in two over Mary, received an embrace from her. When Peter stepped up to the couch, I saw that he had a roll of Scriptures in his hand. Mary then addressed them in a body, and did all that Jesus had in Bethania directed her to do, I saw also that she told John what was to be done with her remains, and that he should see that her clothes were divided between her own maidservant and a maiden of the neighborhood who came sometimes to render her service. As she spoke, she pointed to the press, or partition, and I saw the maid going to it, opening and closing it.
Death, Burial, and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin
And now the altar with its covers, one red, the other white, was placed in front of the Crucifix of the Blessed Virgin’s own oratory. Peter here celebrated the Holy Mass with the same ceremonies as I had seen him first observe in the church at the Pool of Bethsaida. Tapers, not lamps, were burning on the altar. Mary was in a sitting posture on her couch during the whole celebration. Peter was vested in the large mantle and the pallium, whose colors glanced from white to red. These he wore over the white robe. The four Apostles assisting him were also vested in festal mantles. After the Communion, Peter gave the Blessed Sacrament to all present. During this Holy Mass, Philip arrived from Egypt. Weeping bitterly, he received the benediction of the Blessed Virgin, and after the others the Blessed Sacrament.
Peter bore the Blessed Sacrament to Mary in the cross hanging on his breast, and John carried on a shallow dish the chalice containing the Most Sacred Blood. This chalice was white, small as if for pouring, and of the same shape as that used at the Last Supper. Its stem was so short that it could be held with two fingers only. Thaddeus now brought forward a little incense basin. Peter first gave the Blessed Virgin the last anointing, just as that Sacrament is administered at the present day. Next he administered Holy Communion, which she received sitting up without support. Then she sank back again on her pillow, and after the Apostles had offered a short prayer, she received the chalice from John, but not now in so upright a posture.
After Communion, Mary spoke no more. Her countenance, blooming and smiling as in youth, was raised above. I no longer saw the roof of her chamber, and the lamp appeared to be suspended in the open air. A pathway of light arose from Mary up to the heavenly Jerusalem, up to the throne of the Most Holy Trinity. On either side of this pathway I saw clouds of light out of which gazed angelic faces. Mary raised her arms to the Heavenly Jerusalem. Her body with all its wrappings was floating so high above the couch that I could see under it. A figure of light, also with upraised arms, appeared to issue from Mary. The two choirs of angels united under this figure and soared up with it, as if separating it from the body, which now sank back upon the couch, the hands crossed upon the breast. Many holy souls, among whom I recognized Joseph, Anne, Joachim, John the Baptist, Zachary, and Elizabeth, came to meet her. But up she soared, followed by them, to her Son, whose Wounds were flashing light far more brilliant than that which surrounded Him. He received her and placed in her hand a scepter, pointing at the same time over the whole circumference of the earth. At last I saw, and the sight filled me with joy, a multitude of souls released from Purgatory and soaring up to Heaven, and I received the surety that every year, on the feast of Mary’s Assumption, many of her devout clients are freed from Purgatory. The hour of Mary’s death was made known to me as that of None, at which time also Jesus had died on the cross. Peter and John likewise must have seen the glory of Mary’s blessed soul, for their faces were turned upward, but the other Apostles were kneeling bowed to the ground. The body of the Blessed Virgin lay radiant with light upon the couch, the eyes closed, the hands crossed upon the breast. All present knelt, adoring God.
At last the women covered the blessed remains with a sheet, put all the furniture of the house aside and covered it, even covering the fireplace. Then they veiled themselves and prayed together in a space in the front of the house, sometimes kneeling, sometimes sitting. The Apostles too enveloped their head with the scarf they wore about their shoulders, and ranged in order for prayer. They took turns, two at a time, to kneel and pray at the head and feet of the blessed remains. I saw them exchanging places with one another four times in the day, and I likewise saw them making the Way of the Cross.
Andrew and Matthias were busy preparing the place of burial, which was the little grotto that Mary and John had arranged at the end of the Way of the Cross, to represent the Holy Sepulcher of Christ. It was not so large as Jesus’ tomb, being scarcely as high as a man, and was surrounded by a little garden hedged in by stakes. A pathway ran obliquely down into it, and the stone couch, which was like a narrow altar, was hollowed on top to the shape of a body enveloped in its winding sheet, the head being a trifle higher than the foot. The Station of Mount Calvary (the Crucifixion) was on a hill nearby. No cross was erected on it, but there was one cut out on the stone. Andrew was especially active in preparing the grotto, and setting up a door firmly in front of the tomb proper.
The blessed body was prepared by the women for burial. Among them I remember having seen a daughter of Veronica and John Mark’s mother. They brought spices and pots of fresh herbs, in order to embalm it according to the Jewish custom. They closed the house, and worked by the light of lamps. They opened up the apartment back of the fireplace and removed the screens that enclosed the little alcove used by the Blessed Virgin as a sleeping place, in order to have more room for their work of embalming. The wicker screens of the alcove were not again replaced, for immediately after the obsequies they, along with those of the clothes press, were put out of sight by the maidservant. Only the altar was allowed to remain standing before the Crucifix in Mary’s sleeping apartment. The whole house had now become like a little chapel in which the Apostles prayed and celebrated the most holy and unbloody Sacrifice. While the women were preparing the holy body for burial, the Apostles prayed, choir and choir, sometimes in the front apartment, sometimes outside the house. The women went about their task most devoutly and reverently, just as had been done when preparing the most Sacred Body of Jesus for burial. The body of the Blessed Virgin was lifted in the linen of the deathbed and laid in a long basket, which had a lid and which was filled with covers, so that when lying on them, it rose above the edge. The body was of a dry, indescribable whiteness as if shining with light, and of so little weight that, like a mere husk, it could be raised quite easily on the hands. The face was fresh and blooming. The women cut off some locks of hair to keep as relics. They laid bunches of herbs around the neck and throat, under the arms, and in the armpits.
Before the holy body was shrouded in its white garments and enveloped in the winding sheets, Peter celebrated the Unbloody Sacrifice on the altar of the oratory and gave Holy Communion to the other Apostles. After that Peter and John approached the body in their mantles of ceremony. John carried a vessel of oil, with which Peter anointed, in the form of a cross and with accompanying prayers, the forehead, hands, and feet of the holy body, which was afterward entirely enveloped in linens by the women. They placed on the head a wreath of flowers, white, red, and sky-blue, as a symbol of Mary’s virginity, and over the face a transparent veil, through which it could be seen encircled by the wreath. The feet also, which were bound up in aromatic herbs, could be traced through the linens that enveloped them. The arms and hands were bound crosswise on the breast. Thus prepared, the holy body was laid in a coffin of snow-white wood with a tightly fitting, arched cover, which was fastened down at the head, the foot, and in the middle, with gray straps. The coffin was then laid on a litter. Everything was done with the utmost solemnity, and all were penetrated with deep emotion. The sorrow of the mourners was more human and more openly expressed than at Jesus’ burial, at which holy awe and reverence pre-dominated.
When it was time to bear the coffin to the grotto, one half-hour distant, Peter and John raised it from the litter and carried it in their hands to the door of the house, outside of which it was again laid on the litter, which Peter and John then raised upon their shoulders. Six of the Apostles thus carried it in turn. The coffin hung between the bearers as in a cradle, for the poles of the litter were run through leathern straps, or matting. Some of the Apostles walked before the coffin praying, and after it came the women. Lamps, or lanterns on poles, were carried.
Before reaching the grotto, the litter was set down. Four of the Apostles bore the coffin in, and placed it in the hollow of the tomb. All went, one by one, into the grotto, where they knelt in prayer before the holy body, honoring it and taking leave of it. Then the tomb was shut in by a wicker screen that extended from the front edge of the tomb to the top of the vaulted wall above. Before the entrance of the grotto they made a trench, which they planted so thickly with blooming flowers and bushes covered with berries that one could gain access to it only from the side, and that only by making his way through the underwood.
On the night following the burial took place the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into Heaven. I saw on this night several of the Apostles and holy women in the little garden, praying and singing Psalms before the grotto. I saw a broad pathway of light descend from Heaven and rest upon the tomb. In it were circles of glory full of angels, in the midst of whom the resplendent soul of the Blessed Virgin came floating down. Before her went her Divine Son, the marks of His Wounds flashing with light. In the innermost circle, that which surrounded the holy soul of Mary, the angels appeared like the faces of very young children; in the second circle, they were like those of children from six to eight years old; and in the outermost, like the faces of youths, I could clearly distinguish only the face, the rest of the figure consisting of perfectly transparent light. Encircling the head of the Blessed Virgin like a crown, was a choir of blessed spirits. I know not what those present saw of all this. But I saw that some gazed up in amazement and adoration, while others cast themselves prostrate in fright upon the earth. These apparitions, becoming more and more distinct as they approached nearer, floated over the grotto, and another pathway of light issued from it and arose to the heavenly Jerusalem. The blessed soul of Mary, floating before Jesus, penetrated through the rock and into the tomb, out of which she again arose radiant with light in her glorified body and, escorted by the entire multitude of celestial spirits, returned in triumph to the heavenly Jerusalem.
Next day, when the Apostles were engaged in choir service, Thomas made his appearance with two companions. One was a disciple named Jonathan Eleasar, and the other a servant from the most remote country of the Three Holy Kings. Thomas was greatly grieved when he heard that the Blessed Virgin was already buried. He wept with an abundance of tears quite astonishing to behold, for he could not forgive himself for coming so late. Weeping bitterly he threw himself, with Jonathan at his side, on the spot upon which the blessed soul of Mary had left her body, and afterward knelt long before the altar. The Apostles, who had not interrupted their choir-chanting on account of his coming, now gathered around him, raised him up, embraced him, and set before him and his companions bread, honey, and some kind of beverage in little jugs. After that they accompanied him with lights to the tomb. Two disciples bent the shrubbery to one side. Thomas, Eleasar, and John went in and prayed before the coffin. Then John loosened the three straps that bound it, for it rose high enough above the trough like couch to admit of being opened. They stood the lid of the coffin on one side and, to their intense astonishment, beheld only the empty winding sheets lying like a husk, or shell, and in perfect order. Only over the face was it drawn apart, and over the breast slightly opened. The swathing bands of the arms and hands lay separate, as if gently drawn off, but in perfect order. The Apostles gazed in amazement, their hands raised. John cried out: “She is no longer here!” The others came in quickly, wept, prayed, looking upward with raised arms, and finally cast themselves on the ground, remembering the radiant cloud of the preceding night. Then rising, they took the winding sheet just as it was, all the grave linens, and the coffin to keep as relics, and returned to the house by the Holy Way, praying and singing Psalms.
When they entered the house, John laid the folded linens on a little flap-table before the altar. Thomas and the others were in prayer, but Peter went a little apart, as if pondering some mystery. After that I saw him celebrating divine service at the altar before Mary’s Crucifix, and the Apostles standing in order behind him, praying and singing. The women were standing in the doorways and by the walls of the fireplace.
The young servant that had come with Thomas looked quite unlike any of those present. He had small eyes, high cheekbones, forehead and nose remarkably flat, and his complexion was brownish. He was already baptized. He was perfectly innocent, and obeyed orders simply. He did all that he was told, remained standing or sitting wherever they told him to do so, turned his eyes in any direction indicated to see whatever was pointed out to him, and smiled upon everyone. When Thomas wept, he wept also. He always remained with Thomas, and I saw him dragging immense stones when Thomas was building a chapel.
I often saw the Apostles and disciples standing together in circles and relating where they had been and giving their experience.
Before the Apostles left Mary’s house to journey again into distant parts, they rendered the grotto of the tomb wholly inaccessible by raising an embankment of earth before the entrance. At the rear, however, they made a low passage to the back wall of the tomb proper and an opening in the wall, by which one could look down upon it. This passage was known only to the holy women. Above the grotto they built a chapel of wood and wickerwork, and hung it with mats and tapestry. The little altar consisted of a stone slab; the step, too, was of stone. Behind the altar hung a strip of stuff on which was sewed or embroidered quite simply, in the colors of her festal robes, a picture of Mary. The little garden in front of the tomb, and especially the whole of Mary’s Way of the Cross, was beautified by them. While engaged in this task of love, they prayed continually and chanted Psalms. The apartment of the house in which Mary had had her oratory and sleeping alcove was converted into a little church. Mary’s maid continued her abode in the front part of the house, and two of the disciples were left there by Peter for the benefit of the Faithful dwelling in that section of the country.
The Apostles, with tears and embraces, took leave of one another after they had once more celebrated solemn service in Mary’s house. An Apostle or disciple often returned at different times to pray there. I saw also that here and there, out of devotion and in reverence for the Blessed Virgin, churches were built by the Faithful in the same style as her house, and that her Way of the Cross and her tomb were for a long time devoutly visited by the Christians. I had a vision of those early times, just after Mary’s Assumption into Heaven: A woman living near Ephesus, who entertained great love for Mary, visited her house. On her return she caused an altar like that she had seen there to be made, and covered it with a very costly cloth of tapestry. The woman was very poor, and had to defray the debt she thereby incurred by the sale of a piece of her property. Finding herself after some time in dire distress, she went, though very sorrowfully, to a married Christian and sold to her the beautiful altar.