THE SEVEN SLEEPERS OF EPHESUS
NE of the most picturesque myths of ancient days is that told by
Jacques de Voragine, in his "Legenda Aurea":
"The seven sleepers were natives of Ephesus. The Emperor Decius, who
persecuted the Christians, having come to Ephesus, ordered the erection
of temples in the city, that all might come and sacrifice before him;
and he commanded that the Christians should be sought out and given
their choice, either to worship the idols, or to die. So great was the
consternation in the city, that the friend denounced his friend, the
father his son, and the son his father.
"Now there were in Ephesus seven Christians, Maximian, Malchus, Marcian,
Dionysius, John, Serapion, and Constantine by name. These refused to
sacrifice to the idols, and remained in their houses praying and
fasting. They were accused before Decius, and they confessed themselves
to be Christians. However, the Emperor gave them a little time to
consider what line they would adopt. They took advantage of this
reprieve to dispense their goods among the poor, and they retired, all
seven, to Mount Celion, where they determined to conceal themselves.
"One of their number, Malchus, in the disguise of a physician, went to
the town to obtain victuals. Decius, who had been absent from Ephesus
for a little while,
 returned, and gave orders for the seven to be
sought. Malchus, having escaped from the town, fled, full of fear, to
his comrades, and told them of the Emperor's fury. They were much
alarmed; and Malchus handed them the loaves he had bought, bidding them
eat, that, fortified by the food, they might have courage in the time of
trial. They ate, and then, as they sat weeping and speaking to one
another, by the will of God they fell asleep.
"The pagans sought everywhere, but could not find them, and Decius was
greatly irritated at their escape. He had their parents brought before
him, and threatened them with death if they did not reveal the place of
concealment; but they could only answer that the seven young men had
distributed their goods to the poor, and that they were quite ignorant
as to their whereabouts.
"Decius, thinking it possible that they might be hiding in a cavern,
blocked up the mouth with stones, that they might perish of hunger."
* * * * *
"Three hundred and sixty years passed, and in the thirtieth year of the
reign of Theodosius, there broke forth a heresy denying the resurrection
of the dead.
"Now, it happened that an Ephesian was building a stable on the side of
Mount Celion, and finding a pile of stones handy, he took them for his
edifice, and thus opened the mouth of the cave. Then the seven sleepers
awoke, and it was to them as if they had slept but a single night. They
began to ask Malchus what decision Decius had given concerning them.
"'He is going to hunt us down, so as to force us to sacrifice to the
idols,' was his reply. 'God knows,' replied Maximian, 'we shall never do
that.' Then exhorting
 his companions, he urged Malchus to go back to the
town to buy some more bread, and at the same time to obtain fresh
information. Malchus took five coins and left the cavern. On seeing the
stones he was filled with astonishment; however, he went on toward the
city; but what was his bewilderment, on approaching the gate, to see
over it a cross! He went to another gate, and there he beheld the same
sacred sign; and so he observed it over each gate of the city. He
believed that he was suffering from the effects of a dream. Then he
entered Ephesus, rubbing his eyes, and he walked to a baker's shop. He
heard people using our Lord's name, and he was the more perplexed.
'Yesterday, no one dared pronounce the name of Jesus, and now it is on
every one's lips. Wonderful! I can hardly believe myself to be in
Ephesus.' He asked a passer-by the name of the city, and on being told
that it was Ephesus, he was thunderstruck. Now he entered a baker's
shop, and laid down his money. The baker, examining the coin, inquired
whether he had found a treasure, and began to whisper to some others in
the shop. The youth, thinking that he was discovered, and that they were
about to conduct him to the emperor, implored them to let him alone,
offering to leave loaves and money if he might only be suffered to
escape. But the shop-men seizing him, said, 'Whoever you are, you have
found a treasure; show us where it is, that we may share it with you,
and then we will hide you.' Malchus was too frightened to answer. So
they put a rope round his neck, and drew him through the streets into
the marketplace. The news soon spread that the young man had discovered
a great treasure, and there was presently a vast crowd about him. He
stoutly protested his innocence.
 No one recognised him, and his eyes,
ranging over the faces which surrounded him, could not see one which he
had known, or which was in the slightest degree familiar to him.
"St. Martin, the bishop, and Antipater, the governor, having heard of
the excitement, ordered the young man to be brought before them, along
with the bakers.
"The bishop and the governor asked him where he had found the treasure,
and he replied that he had found none, but that the few coins were from
his own purse. He was next asked whence he came. He replied that he was
a native of Ephesus, 'if this be Ephesus.'
"'Send for your relations—your parents, if they live here,' ordered the
"'They live here certainly,' replied the youth; and he mentioned their
names. No such names were known in the town. Then the governor
exclaimed, 'How dare you say that this money belonged to your parents
when it dates back three hundred and seventy-seven years, and is as old
as the beginning of the reign of Decius, and it is utterly unlike our
modern coinage? Do you think to impose on the old men and sages of
Ephesus? Believe me, I shall make you suffer the severities of the law
till you show where you made the discovery.'
"'I implore you,' cried Malchus, 'in the name of God, answer me a few
questions, and then I will answer yours. Where is the Emperor Decius
"The bishop answered,'My son, there is no emperor of that name; he who
was thus called died long ago.'
"Malchus replied, 'All I hear perplexes me more and more. Follow me, and
I will show you my comrades, fled with me into a cave of Mount Celion,
yes-  terday , to escape the cruelty of Decius. I will lead you to
"The bishop turned to the governor. 'The hand of God is here,' he said.
Then they followed, and a great crowd after them. And Malchus entered
first into the cavern to his companions, and the bishop after him. And
there they saw the martyrs seated in the cave, with their faces fresh
and blooming as roses; so all fell down and glorified God. The bishop
and the governor sent notice to Theodosius, and he hurried to Ephesus.
All the inhabitants met him and conducted him to the cavern. As soon as
the saints beheld the Emperor, their faces shone like the sun, and the
Emperor gave thanks unto God, and embraced them, and said, 'I see you,
as though I saw the Saviour restoring Lazarus.' Maximian replied,
'Believe us! for the faith's sake, God has resuscitated us before the
great resurrection day, in order that you may believe firmly in the
resurrection of the dead. For as the child is in its mother's womb
living and not suffering, so have we lived without suffering, fast
asleep.' And having thus spoken, they bowed their heads, and their souls
returned to their Maker. The Emperor, rising, bent over them and
embraced them weeping. He gave them orders for golden reliquaries to be
made, but that night they appeared to him in a dream, and said that
hitherto they had slept in the earth, and that in the earth they desired
to sleep on till God should raise them again."