The Basilica of Santi Cosma e Damiano is dedicated to the two twin brothers who were physicians. Damiano and Cosma soon became patrons of physicians, surgeons, pharmacists and veterinarians.
They were made famous by a miraculous operation whereby they transplanted an Ethiopian’s leg onto a white man’s body. They never charged their patients for services, so they were known as “silverless.”
They were both martyred in ancient Cyrus in northern Syria during the persecution of Emperor Diocletian. For centuries, this became the hub of the medical area of Rome where many physicians conducted their meetings.
In 527, Pope Felix IV (526-530) converted two buildings in the Roman Forum to a Christian Church. Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths and his daughter Queen Amalasuntha donated the library of the Forum of Peace built in 70 by Emperor Vespian and a portion of the Temple of Romulus which was erected by Emperor Maxentius for his son Romulus to Pope Felix. He united the two buildings to create this Basilica. This was the first time that this was done in Rome. The original entrance to the church was from the Roman Forum.
The church was restored in 780 by Emperor Hadrian and in 1632, Pope Urban VIII had the church fully renovated using a design by architect Luigi Arrigucci. The church has two levels. One end of the church is below ground level and is known as the crypt.
The high altar has a 6th century Byzantine apse mosaic that became the model for other mosaics in Roman churches. The mosaic parousia depicts a majestic Christ wearing a Roman toga holding a scroll. The baroque altar is from 1628 with back and white marble columns from the original altar in the crypt. The picture in the center of the altar is a 13th century “Our Lady of Grace”.
Saints Damian and Cosma are carrying crowns of martyrdom. They are being presented to Saint Peter (the older one on the right of Christ) and Saint Paul (on the left of Christ) garbed in the white robes of heaven. Saints Damian and Cosma are dressed in grey togas. The faces of the two brothers are almost identical. To the left of the Saint is Pope Felix holding a model of his church and hovering over his feet are three Barberini bees signifying that the restoration of the church was done during the pontificate of Urban VIII. To the right of Saint Damian is St. Theodore, a soldier-martyr.
The mosaic on the triumphal arch is from the 7th century with an enthroned Lamb of God. The painted ceiling is from 1632 with a fresco by Marco Tullio Montagna of Saints Damian and Cosmas being greeted in heaven by the Virgin and Child. Each end of the ceiling has the coat of arms of Urban VIII with his Barberini bees.
In a room off the cloister there is an 18th century Neopolitan presepio. On November 29, 1988 some thieves stole some of the pieces and they were never returned.
Dr. EveAnn Lovero writes Italy Travel Guides. Learn more about Rome @ www.vino-con-vista.com
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