I came across an extremely interesting legend while researching the city of Ephesus recently… The Legend of the Seven Sleepers.
Around 250AD, when Christians were being fiercely persecuted, seven young men refusing to recant their faith, gave their worldly goods to the poor and retreated to a mountain cave to pray (and await capture, followed by execution I presume), where they eventually fell asleep. The emperor, seeing that their attitude towards Christ had not diminished, ordered the mouth of the cave to be sealed, and effectively sealed their fate.
Two centuries passed and the landowner decided to re-open the cave, thinking to use it as a cattle pen. He did so, and to his astonishment, found seven men sleeping inside. They awoke and believed they had only slept one day. They wandered into the city of Ephesus, and were utterly bewildered at the many churches and the freedom of worship for Christians. The Sleepers later died naturally (and this time permanently) and were buried in the cave in which they had slept.
The ‘Cave of the Seven Sleepers’ became a major place of pilgrimage from the 5th to 15th centuries, and as often happened with venerated sites, a church was built above the seven original tombs. The site was excavated in 1927, and brought to light many hundreds of graves which were dated to the 5th and 6th centuries. Inscriptions dedicated to the Seven Sleepers were found on the walls of the church and in the graves.
So ends my history lesson for today.
Only a fairy tale? Probably, but all legends begin with a grain of truth. Early Christian documents are strewn with the account of the Seven Sleepers, and may I remind you, that stranger things than this have happened…
Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people. (Matthew 27:50-53 – The Bible)
Once again, the truth is quite possibly stranger than fiction.
The Seven Sleepers at Wikipedia here.