According to their legend, seven noble retainers of the Roman emperor Decius were converted to Christianity and refused to perform pagan rites. To escape persecution, the seven hid in a cave and prayed for deliverance. God answered their prayers by putting them into a deep sleep just as imperial soldiers discovered the hiding place and sealed the cave with a huge stone. Two centuries later, during the reign of Theodosius II, a shepherd removed the stone to use it as building material, and one of the sleepers, Malchus, ventured forth to buy bread. After he tried to pay the baker with an ancient coin, he was brought before the prefect and the bishop, who, although skeptical at first, realized when they arrived at the cave that they were witnessing a miraculous resurrection. Hearing the news, Theodosius traveled to the cave to venerate the seven, but after talking to the emperor, they once again fell into a deep sleep. Despite the popularity of the legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus during the Middle Ages, its appearance as a theme in French stained glass is highly unusual; no other extensive cycles predate the glass from the nave of the Cathedral of Rouen.
The attribution of the Seven Sleepers series to the Cathedral of Rouen is based on its similarity to a window devoted to Saint John the Evangelist still found in the cathedral’s nave. Both share a light, bright palette of unusual colors. The expressive, boldly silhouetted figures and the dramatic narrative make these windows among the finest of the period, rivaling the stained glass at the cathedrals of Chartres and Bourges.
Source : The Metropolitan Museum of Art