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Cave of the Seven Sleepers popular pilgrimage site in Turkey

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 4th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A well-paved road, heading east of the Vedius Gymnasium in Turkey leads to the Cave of the Seven Sleepers, about half a mile away. According to legend, the "Seven Sleepers" were seven young men who had been walled up in a cave during the persecutions under Decius around 250 AD. They fell asleep, miraculously waking up around 435 AD, in the time of Theodosius II.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The seven men then wandered into the city of Ephesus, amazed at the freedom of worship for Christians. The Sleepers then later died naturally and were buried in the cave in which they had slept.

The miracle was first described by Bishop Stephen of Ephesus (448-51), and was immediately accepted, perhaps in part because of its usefulness for a current Origenist controversy having to do with the resurrection of the body.

The Seven Sleepers also appear in the Qur'an (Koran); in this version, the boys are accompanied by a dog (Sura 18).

The grotto that is associated with the Seven Sleepers, located on the eastern slope of Panayirdag hill, became a highly venerated site and a major place of pilgrimage from the 5th to 15th centuries.

Many people were buried in the grotto with the Sleepers. A brick church was built above the seven original tombs, with mosaic floors and marble revetments. A large, domed mausoleum was added to the cave in the 6th century.

Archaeologists, between 1927 and 1930 discovered that the cave complex predates the legend by several centuries. An abundance of lamps found in the Grotto date from before the 5th century, and not all of them are Christian.

Modern travelers to the site will find that the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers is fenced off, but a large hole in the fence provides full access to the cave. While off the beaten track, it's still visited by many pilgrims and tourists. There is a small restaurant nearby.

The large cave, with a ceiling as high as many regular churches, has been lined with brick masonry to form a church. There are arch niches on the sides and a rounded apse in the back. The burial places of the sleepers in the floor are now open, empty holes.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Grotto is the treasure trove of terracotta lamps that was discovered inside. They date primarily to the 4th and 5th centuries. Most of the lamps are decorated with a cross; others bear scenes from the Old Testament popular with Christians, such as Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, and Daniel in the lions' den.

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