This Thursday is the Memorial of Saints Cosmas and Damian. They are worth getting to know.
According to the tradition, they were twin brothers, born in Syria, and they were physicians. Contrary to many practices today (!), they willingly treated the poor free of charge. They had three other brothers (their names have not made it into the records of history), and all five were martyred during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian in the late 3rd-early 4th century in Cilicia—in the southeast of modern-day Turkey. This is also the territory of the home-town of someone you may have heard of: Saul of Tarsus, aka St Paul).
In the 6th century Pope Felix IV dedicated a church to their memory. It was built in part out of the body of a Roman temple in the Forum, known as the “Temple of Romulus.” No—this is not the twin brother of Remus, the “founders” of Rome. It may have been a monument to the son of the Emperor Maxentius (the rival of Constantine, defeated by Constantine in 312. But we’re not 100% sure. My own theory is that folks in the 6th century may well have thought that this Romulus was the brother of Remus—it would make sense as a temple dedicated to one of a set of pagan twins was re-consecrated in honor of a Christian set of twins. But I’m simply guessing.
Inside the church and behind the altar is a magnificent mosaic. [https://encryptedtbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSFAcmcnVMLOSzkT3WjGGkQNlqTL05oaL7tLBXqzueu_Qfbtuk09w If you can go to this essay in the bulletin version on the parish’s website, you’ll be able to view this.] Unfortunate later renovations have obscured the full view of the mosaic, but enough can be seen to experience its glory. And it might give a slight idea as to the inspiration of our own “Christ in Glory” painting.
One final note of interest (at least, to me): it was to one of these brothers that a little church outside Assisi was named: San Damiano. This was where Francis first prayed for guidance, was inspired by the Crucifix there, and began the path that would lead to the formation of the Franciscan community. It was here that he placed Clare and her companions; when war and politics made it unsafe for the cloistered women to live outside the city walls, they were brought in to Assisi, to what is now Santa Chiara (she’s buried in the crypt there). But the nuns brought the Crucifix with them, and so it hangs to this day in a side chapel. And in a couple of weeks I’ll b celebrating Mass there!