It is true that the historical remains in Ephesus tell us much about Christian Ephesus. Everywhere among these ruins there is something to remind us of early Christianity. Many temples dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the Saints rise beside or above the Basilica of St. John erected by Justinian, (Emperor 527-565 A.D.) in the sixth century A.D.
A chapel had been built St. John's followers not long after his death on the hill where his tomb was located. This chapel was probably enlarged during the reign of Constantine by the addition of a transept. So great were the number of pilgrims to the chapel in the sixth century that the Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora decided to have, instead of the chapel which had much art value, one which would be worthy of St. John.
The new church was a cruciform structure 300 feet long. The middle nave is covered with six large domes, and the narthex with five smaller ones. the central part and the main dome are supported by five columns. St. John's tomb is underneath the medieval floor covered by the large dome. A belief that dust from his tomb had healing powers attracted many people from all over the Christian world for hundreds of years.
Ephesus, which was heading for a decline, was able to maintain its importance by means of this tomb with the impressive basilica and the large domes rising above it. The floor of the church was laid in mosaic. Monograms of Justinian and Theodora can be seen plainly on some capitals. The church continued to enjoy universal fame until the 12th century. Celebrations were held each year on the 26th of September, the alleged day of the death of the apostle John. The city used to be lit up and processions arranged, which usually attracted large crowds from the neighbouring cities. Pilgrims setting out for visits to many shrines made a point of visiting the tomb of St. John at Ephesus.
Second century coins found at the tomb indicate that it had been a shrine from the very early times of Christianity. Since 1960, excavations and restorations of the Basilica of St. John have been carried out though the intiative and financial asistance of an American benefactor, Mr. George B. Quatman, of Lima, Ohio. Mr. Quatman organized in the United States of Society, "Friends of Ephesus", devoted to this undertaking. Under this program, the Arium (west countyard), a small chapel with frescoes to the north and additional structures were excavated. The Basilica itself has been greatly restored, as has been the tomb area.