Cave of Seven Sleepers

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The Cave of Seven Sleepers on Mount Pion has been a place of interest for both Christians and Muslims. Pilgrimages have been made to the cave by devotees of both religions since the middle ages.

The earliest Christian version of the story comes from a Syrian bishop in the 1st century AD. In one version of the story, seven young Christian men were closed into the cave by a wall during the reign of Decius. In another version Maximian, Malchus, Marcianus, Denis, John, Serapion and Constantine fled the city to avoid persecution. In all of the stories they slept for more than two hundred year, and when they Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire. When Emperor Theodosius II heard of the incident, he declared it was evidence of revival, a major topic in the churches at the time. When these young men died they were given an impressive funeral and buried in the cave in which they had slept. A Christian church was built above the cave.

In the Muslim world the story is retold in the Koran. This story doesn’t state the number of sleepers and it claims they slept 309 years. The Islamic version includes mention of a dog who accompanied the men into the cave. It also slept in the cave, but when people came near the cave the dog kept watch over the entrance making them afraid to come near.  The Islamic version simply calls the youths “The People of the Cave”.

Excavations of the cave began in the late 1920s and continue to this day. The church and several hundred graves from the 5th-6th centuries AD have been discovered. Inscriptions dedicated to the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus were found on the church walls in the graves.

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