Massignon's vision and the spirit of a shared Muslim and Christian witness to the desire and hope for peace and inter-religious reconciliation remains alive and well. The changes over the years have served to enhance the experience of the pilgrimage. In honor of this special 50th year the combined choral groups, the Madrigal of Brittany and the Loguivienne, opened the festivities Friday evening with a concert in the chapel singing diverse pieces from many cultures and religions. For the last few years, the Saturday morning and afternoon preceding the evening's opening ceremony, a seminar has been offered choosing significant themes for lecture-discussions. This year the theme, "To Live Together: from the Reality to the Hope" attracted an audience of 300 to discuss and reflect on the difficulties and the signs for hope.
Monsignor Henri Tessier, the Archbishop of Algiers, was both a speaker and the presider for the pilgrimage and his sermons pointed to the hope intrinsic in this shared Muslim-Christian annual pilgrimage. The project for next year is to establish a sister pilgrimage dedicated to the Seven Saints at one of the sites of their devotion in Algeria held in solidarity with the Breton Feast the same week-end. Having been deeply moved by the assassination in 1996 of seven monks from the monastery at Tibhirine in southern
In 1963, just after the death of her father, Louis Massignon, Geneviève Massignon wrote a wonderful description of the pilgrimage in anticipation of its 10th anniversary. Geneviève was Louis Massignon's second child. She was born on
Placed under the protection of
In fact it is not on the edge of the shore, but well into the mountain that it is necessary to search for traces of the past. (The sea has receded from what was one of the biggest ports in antiquity). Not far from the building called Panaya Kapulu on the side of another hill, beside the tomb presumed to have been that of Mary Magdalene, one finds a sepulcher known by the name of the Cave of the Seven Sleepers.
2. The Origins of the Devotion to the Seven Sleepers of
But, what is more remarkable, the example of these martyrs for the faith is venerated beyond the limits of Christianity. In fact, Sura XVIII of the Qur'an read every Friday in the Mosques (and thus preceding the death of Muhammed in 632) is entitled al-Kahf, that is to say, the Cave. This Sura exalts the abandonment to God of these seven young Ephesians buried alive, describing their witness to fidelity in the face of an impious demand, then their ‘dormition' which it states was 309 years. Sura XVIII could be considered as the Apocalypse of Islam; not only does it magnify the attitude of the seven martyrs for their faith by their anticipated resurrection, but it also presents the announcement of the Last Judgement. 4 "In their fierce adoration of One divine Transcendence," writes the Islamic scholar Louis Massignon, "Muslims make exception for the Seven Sleepers and tolerate the building of sanctuaries to these martyrs because their temporary resurrection made them precursory witnesses of the Last Judgement, saints of the End Time".5 Shustari, one of the most interesting commentators on the Qur'an, said that, "All Saints lose their normal sleep and enter into the sleep of the Seven Sleepers".
Parallel to the liturgical texts of the two great religions, popular devotion has not ceased to surround the Seven Sleepers, as much for Muslims as for Christians. At the beginning of the twentieth century the navy in the Turkish war always had them as protectors and their names engraved on the stern of the ships in
3. Locations of Devotion to the Seven Sleepers in Islam and Christianity.
From their original sanctuary in
In fact, Tunisia honors them at Mount Gorra (cave), at Mides (koubba), El Oudiane (koubba), and Tozeur (cave); Algeria at Cap Matifou (cave), at Foum el toub (cave and megalithic tomb). Guidjel-Ikjân (pillars in the cemetery), N'gaous (tombs); and in
In Christianity, the diffusion of relics attributed to the Seven Sleepers seems to have created the dedication of many sanctuaries. We know that Saint Gregory of
In Germanic countries (the
But while the Breton pilgrims come to make their devotions to a dolmen (transformed into a crypt), at Guidjel, in the Sidi Messaoud ben Driss cemetery, they point out seven stele dedicated to the Seven Sleepers; these stele are made of Roman pillars topped by domes, with kânouns (entrance ways) where visitors can burn incense.
In some cases the devotion to the Seven Sleepers has newly consecrated and styled a monument already honored in antiquity, dolmen (standing stones) or pillars. In Guidjel, two pilgrimages take place each year, the last Friday in July and the Friday following September 6th -- dates that are close to the feasts of the Seven Sleepers in the Byzantine calendar.
The Breton pilgrimage is accompanied by a very beautiful ‘hymn', the Gwerz ar seiz sant (Hymn of the Seven Saints); at the beginning of this gwerz the dolmen is represented as the work of God Himself, "built as far back as the creation of the world" -- symbol of the universal Temple of believers -- then it explains that the life and death of the seven young Ephesians was exalted there; thus evoking the miracles connected to their invocation.
We know that the very ancient cult that built the ‘menhirs' and ‘dolmens' was sharply fought against by the Evangelizers. Also there is room to suppose that the dedication of the dolmen at Vieux Marché to the Seven Sleepers took place earlier than the edict forbidding access to these monuments to Christian believers. Gaidox cites some analogous cases for a crypt-dolmen in the
Professor Massignon believed that the veneration to the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus was able to reach the region of Vieux Marché via the small port of Yaudet (in Latin: Civitaten, in old Breton: Guéodet) near to Lannion, the port through which l'Armorique (this region of France) opened itself to exchanges with the Orient. We can also encounter other Eastern saints in this region, notably Saint Thècle in Ploubezre; and some sculptures of Eastern origin representing the Virgin lying down for the Nativity that can be found at Yaudet.
4. - A Ten Year Old Islamic-Christian Pilgrimage And Its Symbolic Value
It is in this Armorican framework, associating the Orient with the Occident in the same devotion, that the Islamist Louis Massignon thought of bringing Muslims and Christians together, joining themselves to the immemorial Breton ‘pardon' (pilgrimage), that passes on the glory of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus to the extremity of the Occident.
Every year since 1954 a Muslim delegation formed specifically of North African laborers coming from areas around
This Muslim-Christian event ends with a diffa offered by the Muslim delegation, where couscous is served with a lamb slaughtered according to the ritual of Abraham. Presided over for nine consecutive years by Professor Massignon from the Collége de France, recently deceased, the Muslim-Christian pilgrimage to the Seven Sleepers brought together hopes and sorrows in the prayer for a serene peace between peoples. This year again, this ceremony took place at Vieux-Marché the 27th and 28th of July, 1963, gathering together numerous Christians and Muslims desiring to continue this work of peace and spiritual reconciliation.
During painful periods of conflict, the Algerian friends of Professor Massignon returned, at the peril of their lives, to the spring at Guidjel near to Sétif (in Algeria) in order to join in the prayers of the pilgrims in Brittany. Thus the devotion itself to the Seven Saints of Ephesus joins together the hopes of believers in two religions, like the devotion to the Virgin at Panaya Kapulu near Ephesus, where every year this sanctuary receives the homage of dozens of thousands of pilgrims, the majority of whom are Muslims.
This 50th year at the July 2004 pilgrimage, Mohammed Loueslati, the Muslim chaplain at the prison in Rennes, Brittany participated for the third consecutive year. He explained, "I have the right and the obligation as a Muslim to be present here. The wars and the conflicts have changed, but the urgency of this gathering survives, to testify to what we share in common, to write history together".