The Muslim and Christian Pilgrimage of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus

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Every year in summer, a small Breton village becomes the center of a confidential but often unnoticed gathering. On this 21st of July 2012, Christian and Muslim pilgrims go to the hamlet of the Seven Saints/town of Vieux-Marche to celebrate the cult of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. Ephesus is an ancient Greek city in Anatolia. According to a legend, during the III rd century, the emperor Decius ordered to immure alive seven officers of the palace of Ephesus in a cave where they had taken refuge after refusing to renounce their Christian faith. They would have woken up a few hours after several centuries of dormition and then would have become Saints. For Eastern and Western Christian as well as Muslim believers, the Seven Saints symbolize the resistance to the oppression because they dared to assert their faith in a unique God. Some Greek missionaries accompanying eastern traders on the route of pewter allegedly introduced the cult to the Vieux-Marche. In 1954, Louis Massignon, a famous French Orientalist and promotor of the rapprochement between Christians and Muslims at a time of turmoil in French Algeria, set up this islamo-Christian annual meeting in the hamlet of the Seven Saints/town of Vieux-Marche. This year, the pilgrimage is of special relevance. Indeed, it coincides with the beginning of the Ramadan. It marks also the 50th anniversary of the death of Louis Massignon. Father Jean Jacques Pérennès, director of the Dominican Institute of oriental studies in Cairo, in the presence of Jean-Marie Lassausse, priest of the Mission de France at Tibhirine in Algeria, celebrates mass of the forgiveness in the chapel of the Seven Saints, built on an ancient dolmen. A Christian procession crosses the field while Muslims break the fast a few meters away. Called Tantad in Breton language and symbolizing the revival, a bonfire is later lit in the village. Some Muslim figures like Ghaleb Bencheikh, president of the World Conference of the Religions for the Peace and Mohammed Idali a plastic calligrapher, attend the ceremony. An islamo-christian couple is also here. The following morning, in front of Muslim and Christian pilgrims, the imam of the prison of Rennes, Mohammas Loueslati, chants in Arabic language at the nearby fountain of the Seven Saints the Sura 18 of the Koran dedicated to the martyrs of Ephesus. Without doubt, it was a surprising gathering and seemingly unique in France, especially during this period marked by Arab Spring and also religious tensions.

A story created in July 2012.