Saints Cosmas and Damian

Saints Cosmas and Damian Commemorative Plaque in Budapest

Saints Cosmas and Damian (Arabic: قُزما ودميان‎, romanizedQozma wa Demyaan; Greek: Κοσμάς και Δαμιανός; Latin: Cosmas et Damianus; died c. AD 287) were two Arab physicians in the town Cyrhus, and were reputedly twin brothers, and early Christian martyrs. They practised their profession in the seaport of Aegeae, then in the Roman province of Syria.

Accepting no payment for their services led to them being named anargyroi (from the Greek Ανάργυροι, 'the silverless' or 'unmercenaries'); it has been said that, by this, they attracted many to the Christian faith.


Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian, by Gerard Seghers, 17th century, Private collection, U.S.

Nothing is known of their lives except that they suffered martyrdom in Syria during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian. According to Christian traditions, the twin brothers were born in Arabia and became skilled doctors.

Saladino d'Ascoli, a 15th century Italian physician, claims that the medieval electuary, a pasty mass consisting of a drug mixed with sugar and water or honey suitable for oral administration, known as opopira, a complex compound medicine used to treat diverse maladies including paralysis, was invented by Cosmas and Damian.

During the persecution under Diocletian, Cosmas and Damian were arrested by order of the Prefect of Cilicia, one Lysias who is otherwise unknown, who ordered them under torture to recant. However, according to legend they stayed true to their faith, enduring being hung on a cross, stoned and shot by arrows and finally suffered execution by beheading. Anthimus, Leontius and Euprepius, their younger brothers, who were inseparable from them throughout life, shared in their martyrdom.


Cosmas and Damian miraculously transplant the black leg of the Ethiopian onto the white body of the patient.
Reliquary (1400/1420) in St. Michael's Church, Munich containing the alleged skulls of Cosmas and Damian. The convent of the Poor Clares in Madrid also has two skulls of Saints Cosmas and Damian.
Pope Felix IV presents Saints Cosmas and Damian with the basilica he rededicated to them.

The veneration of Cosmas and Damian quickly spread beyond Constantinople; accounts of their martyrdom were rewritten by various authors such as Andrew of Crete, Peter of Argos, Theodore II Laskaris, and a certain Maximus around 1300. The legends are preserved also in Syriac, Coptic, Georgian, Armenian, and Latin.

As early as the 4th century, churches dedicated to the twin saints were established at Jerusalem, in Egypt and in Mesopotamia. Devotion to the two saints spread rapidly in both East and West. Theodoret records the division of their reputed relics. Their relics, deemed miraculous, were buried in the city of Cyrrus in Syria. Churches were built in their honor by Archbishop Proclus and by Emperor Justinian I (527–565), who sumptuously restored the city of Cyrus and dedicated it to the twins, but brought their purported relics to Constantinople; there, following his cure, ascribed to the intercession of Cosmas and Damian, Justinian, in gratitude also built and adorned their church at Constantinople, and it became a celebrated place of pilgrimage. At Rome Pope Felix IV (526–530) rededicated the Library of Peace (Bibliotheca Pacis) as a basilica of Santi Cosma e Damiano in the Forum of Vespasian in their honour. The church is much rebuilt but still famed for its sixth-century mosaics illustrating the saints.

What are said to be their skulls are venerated in the convent of the Clares in Madrid, where they have been since 1581, the gift of Maria, daughter of Emperor Charles V. They had previously been removed from Rome to Bremen in the tenth century, and thence to Bamberg. Other skulls said to be theirs were discovered in 1334 by Burchard Grelle, Archbishop of Bremen. He "personally 'miraculously' retrieved the relics of the holy physicians Cosmas and Damian, which were allegedly immured and forgotten in the choir of the Bremen Cathedral. In celebration of the retrieval Archbishop and Chapter arranged a feast at Pentecost 1335, when the relics were translated from the wall to a more dignified place. Grelle claimed the relics were those Archbishop Adaldag brought from Rome in 965. The cathedral master-builder Johann Hemeling made a shrine for the relics, which was finished around 1420. The shrine, made from carved oak wood covered with gilt and rolled silver is considered an important mediaeval gold work. In 1649 Bremen's Chapter, Lutheran by this time, sold the shrine without the heads to Maximilian I of Bavaria. The two heads remained in Bremen and came into the possession of the small Roman Catholic community. They were shown from 1934 to 1968 in the Church of St. Johann and in 1994 they were buried in the crypt. The shrine is now shown in the Jesuit church of St Michael in Munich. At least since 1413 another supposed pair of skulls of the saints has been stored in St Stephens's Cathedral in Vienna. Other relics are claimed by the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice.

The martyrdom of Saints Cosmas and Damian by Fra Angelico (Musée du Louvre, Paris).

The martyr twins are invoked in the Canon of the Mass in the prayer known as the Communicantes (from the first Latin word of the prayer): "In communion with the whole Church, they venerate above all others the memory of the glorious ever-virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, then of blessed Joseph, husband of the Virgin, your blessed Apostles and Martyrs, Peter and Paul, Andrew, James, ...John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian and all your Saints: grant through their merits and prayers that in all things we may be defended by the help of your protection." They are also invoked in the Litany of the Saints, and in the older form of the Roman rite, in the Collect for Thursday in the Third Week of Lent, as the station church for this day is Santi Cosma e Damiano.

Their feast day in the General Roman Calendar, which had been on September 27, was moved in 1969 to September 26, because September 27 is the dies natalis ("day of birth" into Heaven) of Saint Vincent de Paul, now more widely venerated in the Latin Church. In Canada it has been moved to Sept. 25 (as Sept. 26 is the Feast of the Canadian Martyrs in Canada).

Sts Cosmas and Damian are regarded as the patrons of physicians, surgeons, and pharmacists and are sometimes represented with medical emblems.

Cosmas and Damian are depicted as supporters of the arms of the guild of barber-surgeons carved into a capital, 15th century, from the Carmes monastery in Trie-sur-Baïse in southwestern France. The inscription reads, "Saints Cosmas and Damian pray for us".

In Brazil, the twin saints are regarded as protectors of children, and September 27 is commemorated, especially in Rio de Janeiro, by giving children bags of candy with the saints' effigy printed on them and throughout the entire state of Bahia where Catholics and adepts of Candomblé religion offer typical food such as caruru. The ritual consists of first offering the food to seven children that are no older than seven years old and then having them feast while sitting on the floor and eating with their hands. Only after all children have finished can the guests enjoy the food that is being offered. The Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian, in Igarassu, Pernambuco is Brazil's oldest church, built in 1535.

In the UK St Damian is the dexter side supporter in the coat of arms of the British Dental Association.

Sts. Cosmas & Damian are venerated every year in Utica, New York at St. Anthony's Parish during the annual pilgrimage which takes place on the last weekend of September (close to the Sept. 27 feast day). There are thousands of pilgrims who come to honor the saints. Over 80 busloads come from Canada and other destinations. The 2-day festival includes music (La Banda Rosa), much Italian food, masses and processions through the streets of East Utica. It is one of the largest festivals honoring saints in the northeast USA.

Eastern Christianity

Icon of Saints Cosmas and Damian (17th century, Historic Museum in Sanok, Poland).

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Eastern Catholic Churches, and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, Saints Cosmas and Damian are venerated as a type of saint known as Unmercenary Physicians (Greek: ἀνάργυροι, anargyroi, "without money"). This classification of saints is unique to the Eastern Church and refers to those who heal purely out of love for God and man, strictly observing the command of Jesus: "Freely have you received, freely give." («Δωρεὰν ἐλάβετε, δωρεὰν δότε...» Matthew 10:8) While each of the Unmercenaries has his own feast days, all are commemorated together on the first Sunday in November, in a feast known as the Synaxis of the Unmercenary Physicians.

The Orthodox celebrate no less than three different sets of saints by the name of Cosmas and Damian, each with their own distinct feast day:

  • Saints Cosmas and Damian of Cilicia (Arabia) (October 17) Brothers, according to Christian legend they were beaten and beheaded together with three other Christians: Leontius, Anthimus, and Eutropius.
  • Saints Cosmas and Damian of Asia Minor — alternately, of Mesopotamia (November 1) Twin sons of Saint Theodota. Died peacefully and were buried together at Thereman in Mesopotamia.
  • Saints Cosmas and Damian of Rome (July 1) Brothers, according to Christian tradition they were martyred outside Rome by a jealous pagan physician during the reign of the Roman Emperor Carinus (283–284).

Orthodox icons of the saints depict them vested as laymen holding medicine boxes. Often each will also hold a spoon with which to dispense medicine. The handle of the spoon is normally shaped like a cross to indicate the importance of spiritual as well as physical healing, and that all cures come from God.

Apse mosaic of Cosmas and Damian
The Apse of the Church of SS. Cosmas and Damian, Rome, 7th century: Paul and Peter present the martyrs to Christ.



  • St Mary & Sts Cozman and Demian Coptic Orthodox Church
  • St Damians Catholic Church, Bundoora, Victoria
  • Sts Anargiri, Greek Orthodox Church, Oakleigh, Victoria



  • Sandanski Monastery "St.St. Bezsrebrenitsi Kosma and Damyan"
  • Kuklen Monastery "St.St. Bezsrebrenitsi Kosma and Damyan"
  • Gigintsi Monastery "St.St. Bezsrebrenitsi Kosma and Damyan"
  • Church of "St.St. Bezsrebrenitsi Kosma and Damyan", Sandanski
  • Church of "St.St. Bezsrebrenitsi Kosma and Damyan", Svetovrachane
  • Church of "St.St. Bezsrebrenitsi Kosma and Damyan", Plovdiv
  • Church of "St.St. Bezsrebrenitsi Kosma and Damyan", Smolyan area
  • Church of "St.St. Bezsrebrenitsi Kosma and Damyan", Belashtitsa
  • Church of "St.St. Bezsrebrenitsi Kosma and Damyan", Krichim







  • Igreja dos Santos Cosme e Damião, Bogmalo


  • 10th century chapel of Agioi Anargyroi in the town of Servia.
  • 11th century church in the city of Kastoria.



  • Santi Cosma e Damiano
  • Chiesa Matrice-Basilica minore Pontificia dal venerdì 18 febbraio 2000-Santuario dal lunedì 12 settembre 1938-Parrocchia dal mercoledì 16 marzo e martedì 19 aprile 1814 dei Santi Medici e Martiri Cosma e Damiano; Alberobello, Puglia, Italy


  • Orthodox Cathedral of Saints Anargyroi, Nairobi


  • Sv. Kuzman i Damjan Ohrid
  • Sv. Kuzman i Damjan Jedoarce, Tetovo
  • Sv. Kuzman i Damjan Govrlevo, Skopje
  • Sv. Kuzman i Damjan Triangla, Skopje
  • Sv. Kuzman i Damjan Bolnicka Crkva, Veles (Sveti Besrebrenici Kozma i Damjan)



  • Mision Jesuita de San Cosme y San Damian




  • Kostol sv. Kozmu a Damiána, Bratislava - Dúbravka
  • Kostol sv. Kozmu a Damiána, Trenčín - Biskupice
  • Kostol sv. Kozmu a Damiána, Kšinná

United States

  • Chapel of San Cosme y Damián, Tucson, Arizona
  • Ss. Cosmas & Damian Church, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania
  • Chapel of Saint Cosmas & Damiano; Utica, NY
  • Saints Cosmas and Damian Society, Cambridge, MA
  • Saint Cosmas & Damiano Society of St. Anthony & St. Agnes Church, Utica N.Y.
  • Saint Damian, Oak Forest, IL
  • Ss. Cosmas & Damian Church, Twinsburg, Ohio
  • Ss. Cosmas & Damian Church, Conshohocken, PA (closed 2014)
  • Sts. Anargyroi Greek Orthodox Church, Marlborough, MA

See also


The Charity of Saints Cosmas and Damian by Ambrosius Francken I

Further reading

External links

Uses material from the Wikipedia article Saints Cosmas and Damian, released under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.