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E05364: Gregory of Tours in his Latin translation of the Martyrdom of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus recounts the story of the *Seven Sleepers of Ephesus (brothers who fell asleep during the persecution of Decius; S00287). Translated in Tours (north-west Gaul) from a Greek or Syriac text, AD 573/587.

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posted on 2018-04-23, 00:00 authored by kwojtalik
Gregory of Tours, Suffering of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus


(1-2) During the reign of the emperor Decius there was a persecution against the Christians. At that time seven men from prominent families, named Maximianus, Malchus, Martinianus, Constantinus, Dionysius, Johannes, and Serapion were arrested and investigated before the emperor. Although threatened and ordered to sacrifice to the pagan gods, they refused. (3) They were granted some time to think and change their minds, while the emperor visited another city; they sold their possessions and gave the proceeds to the poor, and withdrew to a cave on Mount Celion, selecting Malchus to go in secret to the city to purchase supplies.

(4) When they learned that the emperor, on his return, had asked about them, they became scared and prayed, and God set them in a deep slumber. (5) When the emperor was informed that they were staying in this cave, he ordered that the mouth of the cave be blocked off. Two Christians, Theodore and Ruben went ahead of the men who were supposed to block up the cave’s opening, and wrote on some lead tablets the whole history of the men and placed these inside the entrance to the cave.

(6) After many years, Theodosius became the emperor. In his times the sect of the Sadduccees arose and sought to persuade the emperor of the falsehood of the resurrection. A certain Dalius from Ephesus who had a great herd of sheep ordered his servants to prepare a fold for his sheep on Mount Celion. When they came to the mouth of the cavern, they found and used the big stones that had blocked it, but they did not go inside the cave. (7) The men who were sleeping there awoke and thought they had slept just one full night. Their bodies were vigourous and fine, and their clothes untouched by time. They gave Malchus some silver coins and asked him to go into town to buy them some food and to bring back news.

When Malchus came to the town (Ephesus), he was amazed, because the city-gate had the sign of the cross on it. He went to the market and tried to pay with coins stamped with the name of Decius. (8) When the people saw the silver coins, they thought that Malchus had found an ancient treasure trove and some men grabbed him and led him to the bishop Marinus and to the prefect. Although he was asked about the coins, he did not understand the situation and asked through tears about the emperor Decius. (9) Hearing that Decius had died many years before, Malchus told the bishop about himself, his brothers and their slumber, and that they had been awoken to show the truth of the resurrection. Then the bishop with the prefect and a crowd of people went to the cave and found the two lead tablets on which was written the whole story of their suffering just as it had been told by Malchus. (10) Entering the cave, the bishop, prefect and people saw the blessed martyrs, shining with virtue, and adored them. They sent news of this wonder to the emperor Theodosius.

(11) When the emperor Theodosius heard this he leapt for joy and hurried to Ephesus. He ascended the mountain with the whole population of the city, and the saints came out of the cave to greet him. When the emperor met them, he fell to the earth and glorified them. (12) Then Maximianus said that therefore all should believe in the resurrection of the dead, after which the saints lay down again and slept upon the earth. The Emperor saw these things and crying placed his own clothes over the martyrs and ordered golden coffins to be made for them. But that night the saints appeared to him and told him to leave them above the ground. Then Theodosius constructed a great church (basilica magna) above them, and there made a hospice (receptaculum) for the poor. And, when the bishops had assembled, he celebrated their feast.

Explicit passio sanctorum martyrum VII dormientium apud Ephesum, translata in Latinum per Gregorium episcopum, interpretante Iohanne Syro, quae observatur IIII id. ags

'Here ends the Martyrdom of the Seven saintly Sleepers of Ephesus, interpreted by John the Syrian, and rendered into Latin by Bishop Gregory; this martyrdom is commemorated on 4 August.'

Text: Krusch 1969, 398-403. Summary: Katarzyna Wojtalik.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, brothers who fell asleep during the persecution of Decius : S00287

Saint Name in Source

Septem Dormientes

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Gaul and Frankish kingdoms

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Tours Tours Tours Toronica urbs Prisciniacensim vicus Pressigny Turonorum civitas Ceratensis vicus Céré

Major author/Major anonymous work

Gregory of Tours

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Construction of cult buildings

Cult Activities - Miracles

Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family Crowds

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


This Latin version of the Martyrdom of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus (Passio sanctorum martyrum septem dormientium apud Ephesum) consists of twelve short chapters. As Gregory records at the end of his text, he produced his translation with the help of a certain John 'the Syrian'; the text they were working from has not been identified and it is not known whether it was in Greek or in Syriac. Although it is impossible to give the precise date when the translation was done, it was probably completed before AD 587. A shorter version of the story is included in Gregory’s Glory of the Martyrs 94 (see E00647).


Decius was emperor between AD 249 and 251 and Theodosius II from 402 to 450, so the Sleepers slept for 150-200 years. Both in this longer version, and in Gregory's shorter account in Glory of the Martyrs (ch. 29, E00499), the purpose of the story is explicitly stated as that of proving the truth of the doctrine of the resurrection.


Edition: Krusch, B., Gregorii Turonensis Opera. 2: Miracula et opera minora (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum I.2; 2nd ed.; Hannover: Hahnsche Buchhandlung, 1969). Further reading: Murray A.C. (ed.), A Companion to Gregory of Tours (Leiden-Boston, 2015).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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