The unfashionable end of town

Far off towards the receding sea, a set of warehouses in Ephesus was converted to a church, probably in the 2nd century CE. That’s what archaeologists seem to believe lies below the ruins of what could be one of Christianity’s most important churches. The very long nave that one sees today was later called St. Mary’s church. If this was unfashionable in the 2nd century, it apparently remains so in the 21st. The Family and I met only a young Japanese trio examining these ruins. Signboards had pointed us along a path which brought us to the very impressive apse of the church.

Sighting down the nave I saw a baptismal font, and a door a long way off. The original church was probably rebuilt for the Third Ecumenical Council, called in 431 CE by the Byzantine emperor, to settle a fine doctrinal point. My audio guide told me that opinion came down in favour of the view that Jesus was simultaneously man and god (but this simplification could possibly have gotten me killed 1500 years ago). As a result, Mary would be called the mother of god, Theotokos in Greek. This also laid the seed of the doctrinal dispute with Islam which, when it rose about two centuries later, recognized Jesus only as a prophet. Long before that, the church was rebuilt into a grand basilica 260 meters long, and probably renamed after Mary. Over the years one part or the other of the grand church would collapse, and worship would shift to an intact part.

I walked down the long nave and past the standing doorway, and the columns which would have been just outside the old basilica. The grand looking apse which I’d entered looked really far away. There was another council held in Ephesus later to decide upon even more subtle questions arising out of such reasoning, but its conclusions were negated by later church doctrine, and led to centuries of schisms and strife. I wasn’t about to delve further into these abstruse questions. I marveled at the extremely thick brick walls and wondered how high a roof must have been held up by walls of such thickness. I couldn’t find an estimate.

There were other ruins around the church which were covered with grass and weeds. Now, in the middle of spring poppies had sprung up everywhere: pink poppies. I don’t remember having seen this colour of poppies before. The eastern Mediterranean is the original home of poppies, so it is possible that there is more variety here than anywhere else in the world. I wondered whether differences in the colours of petals are due to pigments or some other genetic changes, or due to the soil the plant grows in. I found later that poppy petals contain higher concentration of pigments than most other flowers, and that microscopic structures on the petals strongly influence the colours that we see. But whether these effects are controlled by genes or the environment is something I haven’t managed to track down. The world has so many mysteries!

Armistice day

Today, November 11, commemorates the end of World War I. Traditionally, in commonwealth countries, this is associated with the poppy. I found photos I took of poppies in the island of If, near Marseilles, one summer at the beginning of the decade. In France this day is known as Remembrance Day.

74187 Indian soldiers died in this war, some in East Africa, and others in the Western Front in Europe. At the beginning of the war the British Army had marginally more men than the Indian Army’s 2,40,000. By the end of the war, the strength of the Indian Army was 5,48,311 men. As the largest army in the erstwhile empire, Indians were called on to fight for Britain. More than a million Indians fought in the war. I was only vaguely aware of this history until I read Shrabani Basu’s book called “For King and Another Country: Indian soldiers on the Western Front, 1914-18”. Remembrance Day is something that India should keep in mind.