Today In Fact, 27 June

Seven Sleepers Day. Still celebrated in Germany the myth surrounding this day is also recognized by Muslims as it is mentioned in the Koran.

The story goes that during the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Decius, around 250, seven young men were accused of following Christianity. They were given some time to recant their faith, but chose instead to give their worldly goods to the poor and retire to a mountain cave to pray, where they fell asleep. The emperor, seeing that their attitude towards paganism had not improved, ordered the mouth of the cave to be sealed. Decius died within a year in 251, and many years passed during which Christianity went from being persecuted to becoming the state religion of the Roman Empire.

During the reign of Theodosius II (408–450, a local farmer decided to open up the sealed mouth of the cave, thinking to use it as a cattle pen. He opened it and found the sleepers inside. They awoke, imagining that they had slept for just a day, and sent one of their number to Ephesus to buy food, with instructions to be careful lest the pagans recognize and seize him. Upon arriving in the city, the sleeper was astounded to find buildings with crosses attached; the townspeople for their part were astounded to find a man trying to spend old coins from the reign of Decius.

The local bishop was summoned to interview the sleepers; they told him their miracle story, and died praising God.

During the Crusades, bones from the sepulchers near Ephesus, identified as relics of the Seven Sleepers, were transported to Marseille, France in a large stone coffin, which remained a trophy of the church of Saint Victoire in Marseille.

The myth of the seven sleepers allows us to reflect on the power of myth to take what may or may not have been an experience of cruel persecution and transform it into a reflection about the triumph of Christianity even over history and time. Muslims interpret the seven sleepers story as a parable about remaining faithful to God.

I think our civilization uses stories and myth to help us make sense of evil, persecution and oppression. Those who insist on recognizing proven “facts” alone as having any validity, are themselves mythologizing their own experience of life in response to persecution, disappointment and sorrow.

– Posted by Douglas Racionzer (serendipiday.blogspot.com)