Celebrating the Patron Saints of Physicians

Thu, 10/02/2008 - 11:44
Words by Michelle Fabio

They might be two of the lesser-known saints of the Roman Catholic Church, but “I Santi Medici,” the Doctor Saints Cosma and Damiano are two of the most celebrated within the Bel Paese. On 26 September, places such as Gaeta (south of Rome), Taranto (Puglia), and Sferracavallo (outside of Palermo) hold various celebrations for these patron saints of doctors, pharmacists and surgeons.

The twin brothers were born in present-day Syria and quickly became known for their healing ways for which they accepted no payment; for this refusal, they are often called the “Silverless” or “Moneyless.” While practicing medicine, they also shared their faith with patients and gained a wide following.

Just like San Gennaro of Naples, Sts. Cosmas and Damian became martyrs during Diocletian’s persecution of Christians around 300 A.D. The twins, though subjected to torture using fire and water and were even placed on crosses, wouldn’t recant their faith. When the two remained miraculously uninjured through the ordeals, Diocletian ordered their beheadings.

Their remains were buried in Syria, and churches in their honour were built in their home country as well as in Jerusalem, Egypt, Mesopotamia and in Rome by Pope Felix IV; the sixth-century Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano holds several valuable mosaics, and the twin doctor saints are still revered throughout Italy and the world, as seen in these videos:

My favourite is the celebration in Sferracavallo—babies lifted up to kiss the saint statues, monetary donations touched to the statues’ lips before being accepted, dancing in the streets, and of course the running and rocking of the statues said to represent the ill racing to the saints to be cured before it’s too late.

Which is your favourite?

Topic:Culture