This edifice is famed for being the first church built for the Virgin Mary. Furthermore, it was the church where the Ecumenical Council of 431 was held. It is therefore among the most important religious buildings of Christianity.
The building can be reached by the narrow road lying across from the ticket box. The excavation is finished and part of the restoration is completed. The Church of the Virgin Mary is one of the buildings in Ephesus whose history is well known. The building had various periods. The first of these was the period when it was used as a museion. That the Virgin Mary, when she came to Ephesus, stayed in a house which stood on the same site before the church was built was recorded in the book of records of the Council. It is not known for what purpose this building termed the Museion was used. According to some it was the stock exchange building.
An inscription found in recent years on the walls of the church mentions that professors who taught in the Museion would not pay customs duties during their travels in the province of Asia. It can be said according to this text that the Museion could have been a medical school. During excavations one came across this first building's walls made of large blocks. Because of this the Museion must have been quite a large building. To the north there is the big Olypeion built to honour the return of Emperor Hadrian to Ephesus from Athens as Zeus Olypios. The marbles of this building were used to produce lime for repairs in later periods. A Corinthian capital uncovered was 1.5 metres high.
The second stage of the building was the church in which the Council of the year 431 met. This building was erected on the exact site of the Museion but was of a smaller plan. The Museion was about 50 metres longer than the church. At the west end of this early church there was a square-shaped atrium paved with ancient marbles. The main entrance of the edifice was by the door on the south side of the atrium of which only the foundations are in sight today. Across from the door in a symmetrical position stood the baptistry of the church. This structure had a cupola and was octagonal. The piers supporting the cupola were covered with marble plates with crosses on them. Of the crosses which were of bronze only their traces remain. The font in the middle has stairs on either side. There are also the ruins of a small bath constructed later between the baptistry and the atrium. Tombs lying close together discovered in excavations carried out to the north of the building show that this area was used as a cemetery in the 1 1th and 12th centuries.
The third stage of the building was a domed church. When the Council Church which had been built in the 420s and used for about a hundred years was destroyed because of some unknown reason a smaller but domed church was built at the beginning of the 6th century (the reign of Justinian) on the exact site where it had stood. With the apse of this new church which staod about 20 metres distant from the apse of the first church the edifice looked like two churches and for this reason it was also called at one period the Double Church of the Virgin Mary. The brick piers supporting the dome of the church were repaired and made more conspicuous. The door of this church also opened onto the south. When this church too was destroyed also for some unknown reason, in the 10th century a small church with three apses was built in the space between the apses of the former churches and the apse of the first church was used as it was. The little chapel standing towards the street running along the south side of the edifice was also built at the period of this last church.
The Ecumenical Council of Ephesus of the year 431 met in the first church. The topic of debate of that meeting was whether the Virgin Mary was the mother of the god Christ or the human Christ. When the patriarch of Istanbul, during his stay in Antioch, put forward the opinion that the Virgin Mary was the mother of the human Christ big scale discussions arose among the churches which caused uneasiness among the people. Whereupon the Emperor Theodosius ordered a meeting of the Ecumenical Council in Ephesus. The patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius, the patriarch of Alexandria, the patriarch of Antioch, John, and about two hundred religious participated in the meeting. All the while the meeting went on there was much bloodshed in Ephesus and for three months the city went through frightful days. Following this, in 449 a new meeting of the Council was again held in Ephesus