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Seven Sleepers of Ephesus

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Seven Sleepers of Ephesus

Feast Day : July 27 (in the West); August 4 and October 22 (in the East)

 

 

This curious medieval legend exists in different versions in several languages. Probably it was first recorded in Greek, by Symeon Metaphrastes, and later translated into Latin (by St. Gregory of Tours) and Syriac and other Middle Eastern languages. It is also told in an Anglo-Norman poem and in Old Norse. An Arabic version appears in the Koran. The story is simple, though powerful. When Emperor Decius (r. 249–251) came to Ephesus to enforce his persecutory decrees against Christians, he found there seven young men—their names vary in different versions—who were believers. He had them put on trial and gave them a short time to decide whether they would abrogate their faith and live or persist in it and die. Deciding on the latter course, the seven gave their property to the poor and, keeping only a few coins, went into a cave on Mt. Anchilos to pray and prepare for death. They were warned of Decius’s return, said a final payer, then fell asleep. Meanwhile, Decius had ordered his soldiers to find them, and when they were discovered sleeping in the cave, had it walled up. A Christian came along and on the outer wall wrote the story and the names of the martyrs. Years passed and times changed. The Roman Empire became Christian. Then sometime during the reign of either Theodosius the Great (r. 379–395) or Theodosius the Younger (r. 408–450), at a time when the doctrine of bodily resurrection was much debated, a rich landowner decided to have the cave opened in order to use it as a cattle stall. The seven young men then awoke, and, thinking they had slept only one night, sent one of their number, Diomedes, into town to buy food, so that they might have one last meal together. Diomedes found Ephesus much altered, and the people could not understand where he got the coins minted under Decius. At length the truth came out, and Diomedes lead the bishop and the prefect to the cave, where his companions were found. Theodosius was sent for, and this proof of resurrection was much celebrated. At this point, the seven died for good. Theodosius wished to build golden tombs for them, but they appeared to him in a dream and asked to be buried in the earth in their cave. Their bodies were duly returned to the cave and interred there, and a great church was built over it. Every year, the feast of the Seven Sleepers is kept. In the Roman Martyrology, the Seven Sleepers are commemorated individually under the names Dionysius, Maximianus, Malchus, Martinianus, Joannes, Serapion and Constantinus.

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