The legend of the Seven Sleepers
These Christian saints were Ephesians (ie, from Ephesus in Asia Minor, or modern Turkey), walled up by Roman Emperor Decius (249 - 251) in a cave for their faith, in 250 CE. They were found by masons in 479, and were only asleep, and thought that they had been asleep only one night, instead of 229 years.
Rubbing from his eyes the sleep of more than two centuries, Malchus made his way into town to buy bread for the others, and was amazed to see crosses on buildings, for when he fell asleep Decius's Roman gods were all that could be worshipped. The bakers were amazed at the coins he offered, and thought that the young man had found treasure.
When Malchus saw them talking together, he was afraid that they might take him before the emperor, and asked to be let go, saying they could keep the strange money – and the bread. The bakers said if he would share the treasure they wouldn't tell anyone, but Malchus was so afraid he couldn't speak. The bakers tied a cord around his neck and dragged him through the city, where all the citizens abused him, saying that he had found a treasure and was keeping it secret.
The outraged townsfolk (no doubt brandishing torches) brought him before St Martin and Antipater. Malchus reaffirmed that it was his money and he'd got it from members of his family, but, of course, his interrogators had not heard of these relatives, and asked how he could have money hundreds of years old.
The bishop Martin took Malchus up to the cave of which the youth spoke, and was amazed by the sight, six more young men yawning over their Froot Loops*, "theyr visages lyke unto roses flouryng", as a medieval chronicler wrote.
It wasn't long before the emperor came from Constantinople and saw the young saints, whose "vysages shone like to the sonne". He commanded that there be built sepulchres of gold and silver for them, but they came to him that night and asked that their bodies be allowed to lie on the earth, which he did for them … and there they died like the rest of us will. Or, so it is said.
This Christianized version of an older legend was already current in the 6th Century ...
Read on at the Seven Sleepers page in the Scriptorium
Categories: christian, saint, legend, folklore