vol II date / index
St. Pantaleon, A.D. 303. Sts. Maximian, Malchus, Martinian, Dionysius, John, Serapion, and Constantine, the Seven Sleepers, A.D. 250. St. Congail. St. Lucia[.]
THE SEVEN SLEEPERS.
These saints, according to Alban Butler, were Ephesians, who for their faith, under Decius, in 250, were walled up together in a cove, wherein they had hid themselves, till they were found, in 479; and hence, he says, "some moderns have imagined that they only lay asleep till they were found." He designates them in his title, however, as having been "commonly called the seven sleepers;" and we shall see presently who his "moderns" are. He adds, that "the cave wherein their bodies were found, became famous for devout pilgrimages, and is still shown to travellers, as James Spon testifies."
The miraculous story of the seven sleepers relates, that they remained in the cave till the heresy that "denyed the resurreccyon of deed bodyes" under Theodotian, when a "burges" of Ephesus causing a stable to be made in the mountain, the masons opened the cave, "and then these holy sayntes that were within awoke and were reysed," and they saluted each other, and they "supposed veryley that they had slepte but one nyght onely," instead of two hundred and twenty-nine years. Being hungry, Malchus, one of themselves, was deputed to go to Ephesus and buy bread for the rest; "and then Malchus toke V shillynges, and yssued out of the cave." He marvelled when he saw the mason's work outside, and when he came to one of the gates of Ephesus he was "all doubtous," for he saw the sign of the cross on the gate; then he went to another gate, and found another cross; and he found crosses on all the gates; and he supposed himself in a dream; but he comforted himself, and at last he entered the city, and found the city also was "garnysshed" with the cross. Then he went to the "sellers of breed," and when he showed his money, they were surprised, and said one to another, that "this yonge man" had found some old treasure; and when Malchus saw them talk together, he was afraid lest they should take him before the emperor, and prayed them to let him go, and keep both the money and the bread; but they asked who he was for they were sure he had found a treasure of the "olde emperours," and they told him if he would inform them they would divide it, "and kepe it secret." But Malchus was so terrified he could not speak; then they tied a cord round his neck, and drove him through the middle of the city; and it was told that he had found an ancient treasure, and "all the cite assembled aboute hym;" and he denied the charge, and when he beheld the people he knew no man there; and he supposed they were carrying him before the emperor Decius, but they carried him to the church before St. Martin and Antipater, the consul; and the bishop looked at the money, and marvelled at it, and demanded where he had found the hidden treasure; and he answered, that he had not found it, that it was his own, and that he had it of his kinsmen. Then the judge said his kinsmen must come and answer for him; and he named them, but none knew them; and they deemed that he had told them untruly, and the judge said, how can we believe that thou hadst this money of thy friends, when we read "that it is more than CC.lxxii. yere syth it was made," in the time of Decius, the emperor, how can it have come to thee, who art so young, from kinsmen so long ago; thou wouldst deceive the wise men of Ephesus: I demand therefore, that thou confess whence thou hadst this money. Then Malchus kneeled down, and demanded where was Decius, the emperor; and they told him there was no such emperor then in the world; whereat Malchus said he was greatly confused that no man believed he spoke the truth, yet true it was that he and his fellows saw him yesterday in that city of Ephesus. Then the bishop told the judge that this young man was in a heavenly vision, and commanded Malchus to follow him, and to show him his companions. And they went forth, and a great multitude of the city with them towards the cave; and Malchus entered first into the cave, and the bishop next, "and there founde they amonge the stones the lettres sealed with two seales of syluer," and then the bishop read them before all the people; and they all marvelled, "and they sawe the sayntes syttynge in the caue, and theyr visages lyke unto roses flouryng." And the bishop sent for the emperor to come and see the marvels. And the emperor came from Constantinople to Ephesus, and ascended the mountain; and as soon as the saints saw the emperor come, "their vysages shone like to the sonne," and the emperor embraced them. And they demanded of the emperor that he would believe the resurrection of the body, for to that end had they been raised; and then they gave up the ghost, and the emperor arose and fell on them weeping, "and embraced them, and kyssed them debonayrly." And he commanded precious sepulchres of gold and silver to bury their bodies therein. But the same night they appeared to the emperor, and demanded of him to let their bodies lie on the earth, as they had lain before, till the general resurrection; and the emperor obeyed, and caused the place to be adorned with precious stones. And all the bishops that believed in the resurrection were absolved.*
In the breviary of the church of Salisbury, there is a prayer for the 27th of July, beseeching the benefit of the resurrection through the prayers of the seven sleepers, who proclaimed the eternal resurrection. Bishop Patrick,†  who gives us the prayer, says, "To show the reader in what great care the heads of the Romish church had in those days of men's souls, how well they instructed them, and by what fine stories their devotions were then conducted, I cannot but translate the history of these seven sleepers, as I find it in the Salisbury breviary; which, if it had been designed to entertain youth as the history of the Seven Champions, might have deserved a less severe censure; but this was read in the church to the people, as chapters are out of the bible, and divided into so many lessons." He then gives the story of the seven sleepers as it stands in the breviary, and adds, that there was no heresy about the resurrection in the days of Theodotian, and that if any had a mind to see the ground of their prayer in the breviary, and the "stuff" of the legend of the seven sleepers, they might consult "Baronius's notes upon the Roman Martyrology, July 27."
It appears then, that the ecclesiastics of the church of Salisbury were among the "moderns" of Alban Butler, "who imagined" of the seven sleepers as related in the legend, and so imagining, taught the "stuff," as bishop Patrick calls it, to their flocks. Yet Alban Butler weeps over the Reformation, which swept the "imaginations" of his "moderns" away, and he would fain bring us back to the religion of the imaginers.
Purple Loosestrife. Lythrum Salicaria.
Dedicated to St. Pantaleon.
Notes [all notes are Hone's unless otherwise indicated]:
1. Golden Legend. [return]
2. In his "Reflections on the Devotions of the Romish Church." [return]