At every Mass, we hear a recitation of the names of the holy martyrs of the early church who intercede for us: Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian, and of all thy saints, through whose prayers grant that in all things we may be guarded by the help of thy protection. Many in this list suffered martyrdom through their service as bishops of the Church, but Cosmas and Damian showed their piety through their profession as physicians.
Born in Cilicia (in modern-day Turkey), the twin brothers practiced their healing art in the town of Aegea. They evidently had no need of financial reward for their work, so they never accepted fees, earning them the title “un-mercenaries”. This generosity allowed them to treat many more people than would otherwise have been possible – people from all levels of society, who were in need of diagnosis and medicine or treatment. The brothers not only offered medical help, but they also told their patients about our Lord Jesus Christ and so showed forth His love that many were converted to Christianity through their example. This, of course, led to fame for the doctors.
With Diocletian as Emperor, Christians did not seek fame. When the Emperor’s severe persecutions of Christians began, the governor of Cilicia arrested prominent Christian citizens like Cosmas and Damian. The brothers refused to disavow their faith in Christ and so were sentenced first to torture. They were hung on crosses, stoned, and shot with arrows, but still they maintained the truth of Christianity. Finally, in the year 303, the physicians were beheaded, along with their three younger brothers, Anthimus, Leontius, and Euprepius.
The bodies of the twin brothers were taken to Cyrus (in Syria) for burial where a church was built in their honor. The story of their great faith spread to far-flung Christian communities where other churches were built – Jerusalem, Egypt, Mesopotamia. Theodoret, the Bishop of Cyrus in the fifth century wrote accounts of the division and distribution of the saints’ relics. In Constantinople, the Emperor Justinian I (526-530) built a church for some of their relics after he was cured of an illness through their intercession. Pope Felix IV of Rome dedicated a church for their relics, and there are dedications to the saints in many other parts of the world. Miracles of healing have occurred through their relics as they did in their lifetimes through their work. Saints Cosmas and Damian are the patron saints of physicians and other related medical fields (pharmacists, dentists, veterinarians).
As has frequently happened with saints from the early period of the Church, there are several similar stories of twin brother physicians, resulting in the veneration of three sets of Saints Cosmas and Damian! All contain the same basic story: physicians who received no payment for their services, with two of the sets persecuted and martyred, but the third dying peacefully in their sleep. Each of these stories places the saints in different parts of the world: Cilicia, Mesopotamia, Rome. There is no doubt that there were twin brothers named Cosmas and Damian, who worked as physicians and who glorified God faithfully.
In this age of highly-developed but extremely expensive medical care, in this time of medical missionaries but also Medicare fraud, in a day when the medical field is used for both healing and killing, we especially need the prayers of Ss. Cosmas and Damian. May we, through their intercessions, find healing of body and soul.