Seven Sleepers of Ephesus

views updated Jun 11 2018


According to a pious legend, stemming perhaps from the 6th century, seven early Christian Ephesians who were walled up in a cave near their city when taking refuge from the persecution of Decius. Their names, with certain variations, were Maximian, Malchus, Marcion, Denis, John, Serapion, and Constantine. To shield them from the wrath of the emperor, according to the story, God put them to sleep. Some 200 years later the seven Ephesians awakened and found that their city had become Christian. Discovered by the astonished citizenry of Ephesus, the seven sleepers promptly died and were venerated as saints. baronius, in the 16th century, challenged the authenticity of the story, which, as recorded by Jacob of Serugh and gregory of tours, had enjoyed great popularity in the East and the West. H. Thurston and D. Attwater describe it as a Christianization of a pagan or Jewish legend closely akin to the tale of Rip Van Winkle.

Bibliography: h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 190753) 15.1:125162. a. butler, The Lives of the Saints, ed. h. thurston and d. attwater, 4 v. (New York 1956) 3:193196. f. l. cross, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London 1957) 1246.

[e. day]

Seven Sleepers of Ephesus

views updated May 14 2018

Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. The heroes of a romance which was popular among both Christians and Muslims in the Middle Ages. In the story, seven Christian young men take refuge from the persecution of the emperor Decius (249–51) in a cave near Ephesus, fall asleep and reawaken under the Christian emperor Theodosius II (408–50). They become proof of the resurrection of the dead. The grotto of the Seven Sleepers in Ephesus was an important Christian pilgrimage place until the Islamic conquest of Asia Minor in the 15th cent. Muslims located the story and tomb in various places, including a different Ephesus (Afsūs) which was within Arab territory from the 7th cent.