burial churches built in a natural cave on the skirt of Mount Pion
(PanaYlr), to the north of Ephesus, are known as Seven Sleepers'
Grotto. The legend of Seven Sleepers in the Christian tradition is
as follows: Probably in the reign of Emperor Decius (250 - 253),
seven young Christian men fled from the forced participation in the
pagan cults and hid in a cave. Having slept for 200 years, they woke
up in the reign of Theodosius II (408-450). Their names were
Maximian, Malchus, Martinian, Dionysius, John, Serapion and
Having woken up from their long sleep, these seven
young men lived and died as Christians in a Christian Empire. On the
order of the emperor the cave where they had fallen asleep was
rearranged with a funerary church with catacombs beneath and around
and they were buried there when they died. Later when notables and
religious leaders also wanted to be buried here, the area was
expanded and the number of tombs was increased.
The earliest text of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus is found in
the writings of Syrian authors (5th and 6th c. Monophysites). The
heroes became Orthodox martyrs and the legend is known in the Latin
church since 6th c. It is mentioned as 'The Shrine of Seven
Sleepers' in the pilgrimage guide by Theodosius who visited Ephesus
in 530 CEo FI. Abradas and Leon, two religious men, built a domed
funerary church in the shrine ca. 600.
In the following years all the available room around was used for
burials and even rock was hewn for this. The location of Ephesus on
pilgrimage routes to the Holy Land helped the cult of Seven Sleepers
spread. Pilgrims from close by or far away lands all visited the
Seven Sleepers from the beginning of 12th century on. Daniel, a pilgrim, who visited the site about the beginning of
12th c., writes that there were the tombs of many saints here.
Perhaps the name of the mount, IPanaYlr" (fair), comes from the
pilgrims visiting the site all along the Middle Ages. In the Koran,
verses 8-16 of Sura 18 are about the Seven Sleepers who were a topic
in Islamic art as well. There are two more sites in Turkey, that are
also called Seven Sleepers' Grotto (in Tarsus and Kahramanmaras).
The Grotto of Seven Sleepers was excavated by Austrian
Archaeological Institute under the supervision of J. Keil and F.
Miltner between 19261928. The noteworthy point about the excavations
is that whatever was unearthed conformed with whatever was told by
the locals. Funerary churches dated to the 4th and 5th centuries do
not have a regular plan. The floors have mosaic pavement under which
there are catacombs.
The superstructure has entirely collapsed but it is understood
that in the middle was a dome surrounded by vaults. Frescoes on the
walls and vaults have mainly vegetal decoration. There are graffiti
done by pilgrims from the West. Most of these are in Greek and
Latin, telling about the Seven Sleepers, and some give the names of
the pilgrims. The latest dates of graffiti are between 1397 - 1442.
Consequently, tombs and funerary church for the Seven Sleepers
were built here first and then gradually other pious people were
buried, forming a holy cemetery. In the excavations more than 2000
oil lamps were recovered, that were left as gifts. Most of the oil
lamps have cross motifs as decoration.