French; From the Cathedral of Notre–Dame, Rouen
Pot–metal glass and vitreous paint; 25 x 28 1/4 in. (63.5 x 71.4 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 1980 (1980.263.4)
Seven noble retainers of the Roman emperor Decius were converted to Christianity. To avoid persecution, they hid in a cave. Answering their prayers for deliverance, God put them in a deep sleep just as Decius' men discovered their hiding place and sealed the entrance with a boulder. Two centuries later, during the reign of Theodosius II (40850), a shepherd opened the cave and the sleepers awoke. One of them, Malchus, ventured out to buy bread and aroused suspicion when he tried to pay with an ancient coin. Brought before a prefect and a bishop, Malchus recounted his story and the authorities eventually realized, when they went to inspect the cave, that they were witnessing a miraculous resurrection. Hearing the news, Theodosius traveled to the cave to venerate the seven.
The extended cycle from which this panel comes is the earliest representation of this popular legend in monumental French stained glass. In the 1270s, the nave windows were removed to make way for the addition of side chapels, which featured taller and narrower lancet windows. The format of the earlier glass was altered to fit the taller and narrower apertures; thus, none of the Seven Sleeper panels survives in its early thirteenth-century state. The expressive characterizations of the boldly silhouetted figures and the dramatic sense of narrative imparted by their articulation make these windows among the finest of the period, rivaling the stained glass of Chartres and Bourges.