One of the most interesting early extra–biblical stories is the one of Paul and Thecla (2nd century A.D.; Thecla is said to have been a female companion of Paul and eventually [for most of her life] a respected preacher of the Christian faith).
At Ephesus there is a not–too–frequently–visited cave sometimes called “The Grotto of Paul” (= Cave of Paul & Thecla). It is located on the northern slope of Bülbül Dag, away from the normal visitors’ routes through Ephesus. It overlooks the site of ancient Ephesus from the south.
On the western wall of the grotto a painting portrays an event from the apocryphal book called The Acts of Paul and Thecla (ca. early second century A.D.). The painting (5th/6th century A.D.) depicts the initial event described in the book, in the city of Iconium, where Thecla is looking from a window at Paul preaching while Thecla’s mother (Theocleia) looks on. Thecla, against the wishes of her mother and her finance Thamyris, gave up her betrothal (engagement) in order to remain a virgin and to follow Paul.
Eventually Thecla was separated from Paul and became a significant preacher and witness to her faith. Her life and impact has been much discussed during the past thirty years and this painting has figured large in the discussions.
In addition, The Acts of Paul and Thecla contains the earliest physical description of Paul:
“And he [Onesiphorus] saw Paul coming [towards Iconium], a man small in size, bald-headed, bandy-legged, well-built, with eyebrows meeting, rather long-nosed, full of grace.”
The facial image of Paul in the fresco seems to match this description as do iconographic representations of Paul.
The cave seems to have served as a chapel from the early Byzantine period through the early 19th century.
The grotto is 50 ft. long 6.5 ft. wide and 7.5 ft. high gallery that was expanded to the south in the form of a “presbytery.” It was excavated by Dr. Renate Pillinger from the University of Vienna in 1995.
Not familiar with the fascinating story of Paul and Thecla? You can get a Kindle version of the story for only $1.99 in the New Testament Apocrypha—along with 43 other stories!
To view additional images of this Grotto and Frescos Click Here.