“The feast day of this great apostle and evangelist is celebrated on September 26. This day (May 8) commemorates the miracle which appeared at his grave. When John was over one hundred years old, he took seven of his disciples, went outside the town of Ephesus and ordered them to dig a grave in the form of a cross. After that, the elder went down into this grave and was buried. Later on, when the faithful opened John’s grave, they did not find his body. On May 8 of every year, dust [also called ‘manna’] is raised from his grave from which the sick are healed of various diseases.” – St. Nikolai Velimirovich.
Each year, for about a thousand years, from the grave of the holy Apostle John on May 8th, there came forth a fine ash-dust, which believers called “manna”, and gathered it up after an All-Night Vigil and were healed of sicknesses by it. Therefore the Church celebrates the memory of the Apostle John the Theologian still on May 8 to commemorate this annual miracle, even though his main feast is on September 26.
Many pilgrims of medieval times made note of this extraordinary annual miracle. Both Augustine and Gregory of Tours make reference to it. Anglo-Saxon Willibald, later a bishop and a saint, visited Ephesus in 724 and marvelled at the miracle of the manna that bubbled from the tomb of the Apostle. Symeon Metaphrastes in the tenth century writes of the festival on May 8th being of such great magnitude that it seemed there were more people in attendance to take part in the miracle and receive a portion of its distribution than there were stars in the sky. For the unhappy Metropolitan George Tornikes (1155–56), the tomb with its inexhaustible dust was his sole consolation for having to live in what he considered a barbarous place with a dilapidated church.
Abbot Daniel, a Russian pilgrim of the early 12th century, visited the Basilica of St. John that was built over his tomb, and described the feast celebrated on May 8th as well as the shrines and relics surrounding the area:
“It is 60 versts from the isle of Chios to Ephesus; and at this latter place is seen the tomb of St. John the Evangelist. On the anniversary of his death, holy dust rises from this tomb, which believers gather as a remedy against every kind of disease; the garment which John wore is also here. Quite near is the cave in which rest the bodies of the Seven Sleepers who slept for 360 years, having fallen asleep in the reign of the Emperor Decius, and awakened in the time of the Emperor Theodosius. In this same cavern are the (remains of the) three hundred Holy Fathers and of St. Alexander; the tomb of Mary Magdalene is also here, as well as her head; and the holy Apostle Timothy, the disciple of St. Paul, reposes in his ancient coffin. In the old church the picture of the Holy Virgin is preserved; it was with this that the holy (fathers) refuted the heretic Nestorius. Here, too, one sees the Bath of Dioscorides, where St. John the Evangelist laboured with Prochorus in the house of Romana. We saw, also, the harbour, named the ‘Marble Port’, where St. John the Evangelist was cast up by the sea.”
According to one author, the most elaborate description of the miracle dates to 1304 by Catalan Muntaner who arrived in a mercenary force:
“On Saint Stephen’s day, every year, at the hour of Vespers, it comes out of the tomb (which is four-cornered and stands at the foot of the altar and has a beautiful marble slab on the top, full twelve palms long and five broad), and in the middle of the slab there are nine very small holes, and out of these holes, as Vespers are being sung on St. Stephen’s day, (on which day the Vespers are of St. John), manna like sand comes out of each hole and rises a full palm high from the slab, as a jet of water rises up. And this manna issues out . . . and it lasts all night and then all Saint John’s day until sunset. There is so much of this manna, by the time the sun has set and it has ceased to issue out, that, altogether, there are of it full three cuarteras of Barcelona [about 120 quarts]. And this manna is marvelously good for many things; for instance he who drinks it when he feels fever coming on will never have fever again. Also, if a lady is in travail and cannot bring forth, if she drinks it with water or with wine, she will be delivered at once. And again, if there is a storm at sea and some of the manna is thrown in the sea three times in the name of the Holy Trinity and Our Lady Saint Mary and the Blessed Saint John the Evangelist, at once the storm ceases. And again, he who suffers from gall stones, and drinks it in the said names, recovers at once. And some of this manna is given to all pilgrims who come there; but it only appears once a year.”
Regarding the Basilica of St. John the Theologian built by the Empror Justinian, originally it had been in a cruciform shape with six massive domes. More recently they have uncovered a baptistry and and a small chapel to the side. The tomb of the Apostle is today exposed to the elements, but originally it was located under the main central dome of the church. Unfortunately three relics which were still in the church during Ottoman times are now lost to us – a piece of the True Cross worn by the Apostle John around his neck, a garment of the Apostle made by the Theotokos, and most significantly for biblical scholarship today was the original manuscript of the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation) which was authored by this apostle. Today the Basilica is in ruins.