Stories of the Saints - Grace Hall

St Edward's Smile and the Seven Sleepers

It happened on one Easter Day that King Edward, he who was the Confessor and was afterward called a Saint, sat at dinner with all his court about him. Toward the middle of the banquet a silence fell upon the company, and it was noticed that the King smiled, but that soon his face clouded over and "fell into a heaviness." All the guests would gladly have known what had caused his merriment and then his sadness, but none dared ask him, until after dinner Duke Harold Godwin, having followed him when he retired from the table to his own apartment accompanied by a bishop and an abbot, questioned him.

The King answered: "As I sat at meat and bethought me, as is my custom, of the great goodness of God in conferring upon me such abundance of food and drink, of fine raiment and servants, of riches and royalty, I thanked Him in my heart and He opened my eyes. Then I saw, as if I had been in the very place, Seven Sleepers that lie in a cave in Mount Coelion beside the city of Ephesus. And I smiled as I saw them all turn over from their right side to the left. But when I apprehended what this meant I perceived I had no cause to laugh, but rather to mourn, for whereas they have lain for many years on their right side, their turning means that for seventy years they shall lie on their left side, during which time hunger and death, pestilence and murrain, great battles and earthquakes shall be through all the world."

Those who heard the King marvelled at his saying, and sent to the Emperor to know if there were indeed such a city or such a mountain, and whether there were seven sleepers in a cave.

The Emperor in turn went to Ephesus, to Mount Coelion, found the cave, and in it seven martyrs, lying on their left side, every one! He was filled with wonder at the sight. After the Emperor's death, in accordance with St Edward's prophecy, insurrections began throughout all the world, pestilence, and all manner of scourges and visitations.

Now, as to the Seven Sleepers, these were seven young Christians who lived in the time of the Emperor Decius. They were Maximian, Malchus, Marcus, Dionysius, John, Serapion, and Constantine. They were accused before the ruler because they refused to offer sacrifices to the gods, but they escaped to Mount Coelion and hid in a cavern. They were, however, betrayed and discovered as they slept, and by order of the Emperor were sealed into the cave. But two Christian men, Theodorus and Rufinus, wrote an account of their martyrdom and laid the parchment, closed with silver seals, among the stones that blocked the cave's mouth.

Two hundred and eight years later, when the Christian Emperor Theodorus was reigning, he sorrowed over the heresy which had sprung up, denying the resurrection of the dead. Daily he retired to a secret place in his palace and mourned in sackcloth and ashes. God in the following manner rewarded and justified his faith.

A certain burgess of Ephesus, in digging to make a stable on Mount Coelion, came upon the cavern; the light and air entered it, and the sleepers awoke, thinking that they had slept but over night. One of their number, Malchus, was selected to go to the city to buy food. He set forth with fear and trembling, supposing his life and that of his companions to be in great danger.

He advanced cautiously toward the city gate and was startled at the sight of a cross placed above it. He tried another gate, there found another cross. He believed himself to be dreaming, but covering his face he entered the city and went to buy bread. Hearing everywhere the name of Christ spoken boldly and openly he was more and more puzzled. Finally he arrived at a baker's and bought bread. In payment he offered a coin the like of which the baker had never seen; the baker therefore came to the conclusion that Malthus had found some ancient hidden treasure; he immediately accused him, and Malchus knew not what to say for dread. When the bystanders saw his confusion they put a cord round his neck and haled him before the consul and the bishop.

After much questioning the truth was discovered, and Malchus led all the principal men of the city, followed by the multitude, to the cave in Mount Coelion. There within sat the other youths, "their visages like unto roses flowering," and shining like the sun. Also they found the letter of Theodorus and Rufinus, sealed with its seals of silver, among the displaced stones at the mouth of the cave.

The Emperor was sent for and came in haste. Entering the cave, he with tears embraced each of the seven, saying: "I see you as if I should see our Lord raising Lazarus!"

Maximian then said to him: "Believe us, O Emperor, for our Lord has raised us before the Day of Judgment to the end that thou believe firmly in the resurrection of the dead!"

After these words, they all inclined their heads to the earth, and rendered up their spirits to God.

The Emperor wished to make sepulchres of gold and silver for them, but they appeared to him that night and bade him suffer them to remain on the earth of the cave (on their right side), as they had so long lain, until the day of the final resurrection.

To return to St Edward.

It happened on another occasion, on a Whit-Sunday, when he was praying before the altar at Westminster for the peace and tranquillity of his realm, that at the elevation of the Sacrament he "fell in a soft and demure laughing," so that all who were present wondered, but again dared not question him until the service was over. Then one bolder than the rest asked him why he had smiled, and he told them that as he prayed he had seen as in a vision his enemies across the sea, the Danes, assembling in great numbers and boarding ships to come to attack the realm of England. As the King of Denmark was about to embark he fell between two ships and was drowned, and by his death both the people of Denmark and the people of England escaped a great peril.

"That," he ended, "was the cause of my smiling."

Those who heard the King recount his vision immediately sent messengers to Denmark to inquire if this might be true. When the messengers returned they reported that it was true indeed, and that the King of Denmark had been drowned at the moment when St Edward smiled.