Feast Day: September 26
Patrons of ♦ Physicians ♦ Apothecaries
♦ Surgeons ♦ Chemists ♦ Pharmacists
♦ Midwives ♦ Barbers ♦ Hairdressers
♦ Marital Harmony ♦ The Blind
♦ Gaeta, Italy
Cosmas the physician and Damian the apothecary were twin brothers born in the third century AD in the Middle East. They studied sciences in Syria and became well known for their skills in medicine, setting up practice in Cilicia, where they were called anargyroi, “the silverless” or “the unmercenaries” because they treated patients free of charge.
Their careers were cut short around 300 AD when they were martyred on September 26 under the Diocletian persecutions. Their three brothers, Anthimus, Leontius and Euprepius died with them. Other than their martyrdom there is very little factual evidence of their lives.
For centuries, their tomb in the Syrian city of Cyprus was a popular shrine. Churches were built in their honor in Rome and other cities. After canonization, they became the patron saints of Medicine and Pharmacy, and many miracles were attributed to them. They are the protectors of barren women and, along with Luke the Evangelist, the patrons of doctors. Eventually a number of fables grew around them, connected in part with their relics.
A married woman claimed she was saved from murder and molestation when the brothers miraculously appeared to drive her attacker over a cliff. From that time on, the brothers were venerated as protectors of marital harmony.
Believing to have been cured of dangerous illness by the intercession of Cosmas and Damian, the Emperor Justinian I in gratitude rebuilt and adorned their church at Constantinople, and it became a celebrated place for pilgrimage. In Rome, Pope Felix IV (526−530) erected a church in their honor, the mosaics of which are still among the most valuable artifacts of the city.
The Basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian is located in the heart of ancient–and modern–Rome. The lecture hall for Claudius Galen, the still-renowned physician of Rome, was also in this area, only a short distance from the Temple of Castor and Pollux. (Cosmas and Damian probably provided a substitute for these pagan twins).
They have inspired famous artists, including Donatello and Fra Angelico. Ironically, they were favorites of the infamously mercenary Medici family, a number of whom were named “Cosimo.”
The Greek Church celebrates the feast of Sts. Cosmas and Damian on July 1, October 17, & November 1, and venerates three pairs of saints of the same name and profession.
They are invoked in the Canon of the Mass and in the Litany of the Saints.
The brothers are also patrons of barbers and hairdressers (associated with medicine in the Middle Ages) and of blind people. The town of Gaeta, Italy, has long held them as their patrons.
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