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Saints Cosmas and Damian, martyrs

September 26, 2015


CosmasDamienMore Legend than History.  There is very little accurate historical information about Sts. Cosmas and Damian, but their legend has been popular and revered over the centuries.  As the story goes, Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers, born in Arabia sometime in the early to mid-Third Century.

Medical Doctors.  Cosmas and Damian were both devout Christians.  They moved to Syria where they studied medicine.  They settled in Aegeae, Cilicia, in Syria, where they developed outstanding reputations as highly skilled and effective physicians.  They considered their work an extension of the healing ministry of Jesus, the Divine Physician, and an act of Christian charity for their patients.  They were devoted to their patients and treated them with exceptional kindness and compassion.  Not only did they use their medical knowledge and techniques for their benefit, they also prayed for them.  Many were cured of their afflictions due to both their treatments and their prayers.  They also were a source of spiritual comfort and peace.  Some of their healings were so remarkable that they were considered miracles.  They gave of themselves generously and selflessly, charged no fees for their services, and consequently in the Eastern Church they became known as the anargyroi, Greek for the “moneyless ones.”

Arrest and Martyrdom.  Both Cosmas and Damian were open and vocal about their belief in Jesus, and as a result they were arrested during the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s persecution against Christians. They were forcibly taken before Lysias, the governor of Cilicia, who had them tortured first.  They survived attempts to drown, burn, and stone them, and they were finally beheaded.  They were put to death along with their three brothers:  Anthimus, Euprepius, and Leonitis.  The date of their martyrdom is disputed, variously reported to have been in 287, 300, or 303 AD.  Their remains were entombed in nearby Cyrrhus, Syria.

Expanding Devotion.  Cosmas and Damian were held in such high regard that a basilica was built in their honor over their tombs in Cyrrhus.  As the story of their heroic faith continued to spread, other major churches were built in their name.  A major church was erected in Constantinople during the Fifth Century.  A pagan temple in the Roman Forum was converted to the Basilica of Sts. Cosmas and Damian during the Sixth Century and, at the direction of Pope Felix IV (526-530), their relics were transferred from Syria to the basilica in Rome.  Devotion to Cosmas and Damian continued to extend widely, particularly to Greece and Russia, and throughout Eastern Europe.  Their names are mentioned in the first martyrology in Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon.

Intercessory Roles.  St. Luke is the best known patron saint of physicians, and he is joined by Sts. Comas and Damian, as well as St. Pantaleon.  Sts. Cosmas and Damian are also the patron saints of surgeons, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, barbers, and the blind.

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