Feast Day: September 26
Nothing is known of their lives except that they suffered martyrdom in Syria during the persecution of Diocletian. A church erected on the site of their burial place was enlarged by Emperor Justinian. Devotion to the two saints spread rapidly in both East and West. A famous basilica was erected in their honor in Constantinople. Their names were placed in the canon of the Mass, probably in the sixth century.
Legend says that they were twin brothers born in Arabia, who became skilled doctors. They were among those who are venerated in the East as the “moneyless ones” because they did not charge a fee for their services. Extremely numerous cures of healing were claimed at their intercession. It was impossible that such prominent persons would escape unnoticed in time of Christian persecution: They were arrested and beheaded.
The significance of this feast is found in the advice given in the Old Testament, Book of Sirach: “Hold the physician in honor, for he is essential to you, and God it was who established his profession. From God the doctor has his wisdom… His knowledge makes the doctor distinguished, and gives him access to those in authority… He endows men with the knowledge to glory in his mighty works, through which the doctor eases pain and the druggist prepares his medicines… Then give the doctor his place lest he leave; for you need him too. There are times that give him an advantage, and he too beseeches God that his diagnosis may be correct and his treatment will bring about a cure” (Si 38:1-14).
The dedicated care of the sick by Sts. Cosmas and Damian was a reflection of God’s divine providence. They were motivated primarily by Christian charity and compassion for the sick and suffering. St. Gregory of Tours said that these two physicians cured as many people by their prayers as they did by their medical knowledge, and now in heaven they still cure the sick miraculously. They are the patron saints of doctors; their acts recount their skill in healing both men and animals. These stories appealed to artists over the centuries, who depicted not only individual portraits but also whole cycles of their lives.
“Their deaths reveal your power shining through our human weakness. You choose the weak and make them strong in bearing witness to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Sacramentary, Preface for Martyrs).
Farmer, David. “Oxford Dictionary of Saints.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day.” Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2009.
Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar.” New York: Alba House, 1992.