A-Z of Saints: Cosmas and Damian

There wouldn’t normally be ‘two saints for the price of one’, but Cosmas (or Cosmus) and Damian go inextricably together.

They were, in fact, twin brothers, born in Arabia, both doctors and famed for their healing in Cilicia (now Turkey).

A portrait of the saints from the 15th century depicts them conducting the world’s first leg transplant, based on a miracle after their deaths where they apparently replaced a Roman man’s leg with that of an Ethiopian!

The only source we have about them is a 13th century ‘bestseller’, the Golden Legend, where the Bishop of Genoa wrote: “They were learned in the art of medicine, and of leechcraft, and received so great grace of God that they healed all maladies and languors, not only of men but also cured and healed beasts…”

Their reputation grew not only for their prowess, but also for their refusal to charge for it, and thus they became known as “the silverless”.

Many of their patients became Christians as a result of their ministrations – such that under the emperor Diocletian’s (245-313) wave of persecution, the prefect Lysias, governor of Cilicia, arrested and tortured them.

The legend runs that the saints were unharmed by attempted drowning, fire and crucifixion, and ultimately had to be beheaded – along with three other brothers of theirs. (Both died circa 283-287.)

Their remains were buried in Cyrus, Syria, and the Christian emperor Justinian (527-565) made their church in Constantinople a place of pilgrimage, having been cured of an illness by their intercession.


Cosmas and Damian became patron saints of pharmacists, apothecaries, doctors and surgeons, and are represented by a phial of ointment.

Their memorial day is either 26 or 27 September (1 July, 17 October and 1 November in Greek traditions). In Britain, it is notable that there are only five Anglican churches named after these saints. They are:

In London there is a Greek Orthodox church dedicated to the saints; overseas they are celebrated in churches in Germany, Croatia, Sardinia and Italy (including one in Rome).

Some other notable ‘C’ saints

  • Saint Columba (521-597) was the abbot of Iona – of royal descent, he was an Irish missionary who helped reintroduce Christianity to Scotland and the north of England. His feast day is 9 June. He is also the source of the first ever reference to the Loch Ness monster!
  • Saint Cuthbert (c634-687) became bishop at Lindisfarne after a period on the Farne Islands as a hermit. His body, found to be preserved years after his death, was stolen by the Danes in 875, and is now entombed in Durham Cathedral. His feast day is 20 March.
  • Saint Christopher (3rd century?) is of course the patron of travellers. He is important to the Orthodox churches although widely held elsewhere to be a figure only of legend – largely on account of the tales that he was 18 feet tall or a dog-headed cannibal!

Some other notable ‘D’ saints

  • Saint David (c512-587) is the patron of Wales and was from the royal family of Ceredigion. He founded monastic settlements in both Britain and Brittany, including one on the site what is now St David’s cathedral in Pembrokeshire. His feast is 1 March.
  • Saint Denis was the bishop of Paris who died around 250AD. He was beheaded on the hill now known as Montmartre, and one legend tells that he picked up his head and preached a sermon before dying where the St Denis Basilica stands today. His feast is 9 October.
  • Saint Dunstan (909-988) was an Archbishop of Canterbury, renowned for his cunning in outwitting the Devil. The service he created for King Edgar’s coronation still forms the basis of coronations to this day. He is the patron of goldsmiths and his feast day is 19 May.