The feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian has been celebrated on 26 September since 1970 though the traditional Roman calendar honors the saints on 27 September, the anniversary of their death in 287 CE .

By Costanza Beltrami

The feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian has been celebrated on 26 September since 1970 though the traditional Roman calendar honors the saints on 27 September, the anniversary of their death in 287 CE

The Golden Legend, a popular compilation of saints’s lives written in the 1260s by the Dominican friar Jacobus de Voragine, recounts their biographies. According to Voragine, Cosmas and Damian were brothers living in Arabia during the reign of Diocletian (284-305 AD). They were supernaturally skilled in medicine and healing, which they practiced free of charge. Their fame spread to the Roman proconsul Lisias, who condemned them to death for being Christians. Together with three other brothers, Cosmas and Damian were thrown in the sea but were miraculously saved by an angel. They also survived being burned alive, tortured, crucified, stoned, and pierced with arrows. 

Eventually, they were beheaded, finally succumbing to death, but continued to perform miracles. Best-know among their posthumous miracles is the healing of a devotee’s rotten leg. A pious man fell asleep while praying the saints for his health. While he was sleeping, the saints decided to substitute his leg with that of a Moor, buried nearby. When the devotee woke up, he was able to walk without pain. Visiting the tomb of the Moor, he found his rotten leg attached to the dead body, as confirmation of the miracle.

In 1438-40, the Florentine painter Fra’ Angelico portrayed the Saints’ martyrdom and miracles in the predella of the San Marco altarpiece, commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici. The Medici regarded Cosmas and Damian as their patron saints, as “medici” means “doctors” in Italian.

References: “ANGELICO, Fra.” Benezit Dictionary of Artists. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/benezit/B00005095; Jacobus de Voragine. The Golden Legend (Princeton, 2012).

Fra’ Angelico, The Healing of Palladia by Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian, 1438-40, tempera on panel, 36 x 46 cm. Washington: National Gallery. Photo: Web Gallery of Art.

Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian before Lisias, 1438-40, tempera on panel, 36 x 46 cm. Munich: Alte Pinakothek. Photo: Web Gallery of Art.

Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian Salvaged, 1438-40, tempera on panel, 36 x 46 cm. Munich: Alte Pinakothek. Photo: Web Gallery of Art.

Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian Condemned, 1438-40, tempera on panel, 36 x 46 cm. Dublin: National Gallery of Ireland. Photo: Web Gallery of Art.

Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian Crucifixed and Stoned, 1438-40, tempera on panel, 36 x 46 cm. Munich: Alte Pinakothek. Photo: Web Gallery of Art.

Beheading of Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian, 1438-40, tempera on panel, 36 x 46 cm. Paris: Musée du Louvre. Photo: Web Gallery of Art.

Sepulchring of Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian, 1438-40, tempera on panel, 36 x 46 cm. Florence: Museo di San Marco. Photo: Web Gallery of Art.

Sepulchring of Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian, 1438-40, tempera on panel, 36 x 46 cm. Florence: Museo di San Marco. Photo: Web Gallery of Art.

The Healing of Justinian by Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian, 1438-40, tempera on panel, 36 x 46 cm. Florence: Museo di San Marco.

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