Saints Cosmas and Damian, patron saints of doctors

 

Saint Francis, Saint Lawrence, Saint Cosmas, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Damian, Saint Anthony Abbott, Saint Peter
Saints Francis, Lawrence, Cosmas, John the Baptist, Damian, Anthony Abbot, and Peter

Filippo Lippi

National Gallery, London

 

Unlike many other doctors, Cosmas and Damian were also saints. They lived in what today is modern Turkey, where they practiced healing the sick. They may also have been color blind (!), replacing (as in the paintings shown here) a patient’s gangrenous leg with one of the wrong color. But the Florentine Filippo Lippi clearly was not, when he painted them in exquisite red colors in the company of five other saints. In the Renaissance Cosmas and Damien became the patron saints of the ruling Florentine family of the Medici, whose name is a play on the Italian word for doctor.

 

Saints Cosmas and Damian performing a miraculous cure by transplantation of a leg Main altar of Saint Cosmas and Damian Legendary transplantation of a leg by Saints Cosmas and Damian, assisted by angels
A verger’s dream: Saints Cosmas and Damian performing a miraculous cure by transplantation of a leg, ca. 1495

Attributed to the Master of Los Balbases

Main altar of Saint Cosmas and Damian

Angelico Fra

Dominican convent of San Marco, Florence, Italy

Legendary transplantation

of a leg by Saints Cosmas

and Damian, assisted by angels

 

During the persecution of Christians under the emperor Diocletian, Cosmas and Damian were arrested and ordered under torture to recant but stayed true to their faith. They were hung on a cross, stoned, and shot by arrows, then beheaded, as shown in the painting by Fra Angelico. Their three younger brothers shared in their martyrdom (ca. 287 CE). Their skulls are said to be preserved, as relics, in St. Michael’s church in Munich.

 

The martyrdom of Saints Cosmas and Damian Reliquary containing the alleged skulls of Cosmas and Damian
The martyrdom of

Saints Cosmas and Damian

Fra Angelico

Musée du Louvre, Paris

Reliquary containing the alleged skulls of Cosmas and Damian

St. Michael’s Church, Munich

 


George Dunea, MD, Editor-in-Chief