Summary of Ss Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs. They died probably in Syria. Widely venerated as martyrs in the fifth and sixth centuries when basilicas were dedicated to them in Constantinople and Rome and when their names were included in Eucharistic Prayer I (The Roman Canon). Later legend identified them as twin brothers who practiced medicine without charge to their patients.
Ss Cosmas and Damian
The names of these two saints, reputed to have been healers, occur in the 4th century Roman Canon (First Eucharistic Prayer). This indicates their early veneration. They also are in the Litany of the Saints. Along with St Luke, they are patrons of physicians and all healers. Patrick Duffy tells their story.
“The Silverless Ones”
Brothers, probably twins, born in Cilicia (south of Modern Turkey) and educated in Syria, they returned to Cilicia where they practised and became famous as physicians and for teaching their patients about Christ. Because they refused payment for their services, they were known as The Anargyroi, or “the silverless ones”. During the persecution of Diocletian (303), they were imprisoned, tortured and beheaded.
Burial and influence
The bodies of Cosmas and Damian were taken to Syria for burial and by 400 a church had been built over the martyrs’ grave. In the 5th century Pope St Felix IV (526-530) brought their relics to Rome and – perhaps in deference to the Eastern Church – erected a church in their honour – the first in honour of eastern saints – just off the Roman forum, where it still stands today. An inscription in the basilica reads: Martyribus medicis populo spes certa salutis. Here there is an intended pun on the word salutis: it can mean “good health” and/or “eternal salvation”. So we can read it as saying to us: “Because of these martyred physicians there is a sure hope of both good health and eternal salvation.”
In art – Fra Angelico and other artists
Various Lives of Saints Cosmas and Damian gave rise to legends and artistic depictions of the two saints. One by Alonso de Sedano (active 1496 in Burgos Cathedral) shows the two saints grafting the severed leg from a recently deceased Ethiopian to replace a patient’s ulcered leg. Fra Angelico also has a number including The Beheading and the Burial of the saints and one showing them healing a lady Palladia.
Pray today for physicians, surgeons, pharmacists and all who work in the healing professions.