Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian were brothers who were blessed by the Lord with a gift of healing people. They didn’t take payment for curing people and prophesied the faith in Christ. There were three different sets of holy unmercenary brothers named Cosmas and Damian: saints Cosmas and Damian of Rome (martyrs), saints Cosmas and Damian of Arabia and saints Cosmas and Damian of Asia Minor. Most Russian icons feature Cosmas and Damian of Asia Minor. The translations of stories of their miracles appeared in Rus as early as the Pre-Mongolian period.

According to their hagiography, Cosmas and Damian of Asia Minor were twin brothers who lived not later than in the 4th century, the dates of their birth and death remain unknown. Their father, a pagan Greek, died early leaving them in the care of their Christian mother Theodotia, also canonized. When the children grew up, Theodotia gave them to one God-fearing man to learn medicine. Receiving the gift of healing from the Lord, they accepted no payment for their services. But the Lord allowed Damian to break the strict vow. Once the brothers healed a grievously ill woman named Palladia. In gratitude for being healed, she offered the saints her estate but the brothers refused to accept it. Palladia went quietly to Damian and convinced him to accept three eggs in the Name of the Holy Trinity. When St. Cosmas learned what had happened, he became so sad that on his deathbed he gave instructions that his brother should not be buried beside him. But on that very night the Lord appeared to Cosmas and quieted him down. Cosmas died shortly thereafter but prior to his death he performed yet another miracle – he healed a wild camel. When Damian died, people, knowing of Comas’ instructions to bury him separately from his brother, stood confused before the saint’s tomb. But suddenly the camel, which the saints had treated for its wildness appeared and spoke with a human voice saying that they should have no doubts about whether to place Damian beside Cosmas, because Damian did not accept the eggs from the woman as payment, but out of respect for the Name of God. The venerable relics of the holy brothers were buried together at Thereman (Mesopotamia), where a church would be later built in their names.

Especially popular is a paired image of the saints depicting Cosmas on the left and Damian on the right side. Saint Damian is dressed in a long tunic with narrow sleeves, which is covered with a short chiton with wide sleeves; it is overlaid with a himation draping the left shoulder; on his feet are small boots. The saint is shown bareheaded, with short hair, often with receding hairline. Painter’s guides describe Cosmas and Damian of Asia Minor as follows: «брадами оба средни равны, в правых руках держат перья, а в левых сосудцы открыты, на ногах сапоги вохра» (their beards are of about the same size, in the right hands they hold feathers, in the left open vases, with ochre-colored boots of the feet.” This pair of twin brothers is depicted as middle-aged people, with small spade beards, neat haircut, holding medicine spoons or feathers. Cosmas and Damian of Rome are portrayed as follows: «Косма млад, аки Димитрий Селунский… Дамиан млад, аки Георгий мученик, кудреват… в правых руках держат кресты, а в левых сосудцы» (Cosmas is young like Demetreus of Thessaloniki… Damian is as young as George the martyr, curly hair… with crosses in the right hands, and vessels in the left), i.e. the Roman pair is distinguished by voluminous and wavy hair with long locks. The unmercenaries of Arabie “resemble Florus and Laurus”, i.e. Cosmas is portrayed as a middle-aged man whereas Damian is depicted as a youth.

In Byzantine and medieval Russian arts saints Cosmas and Damian are frequently encountered in the monumental paintings or among selected saints. The earliest image of the saints is late 4th century mosaics in the Church of St. George in Thessaloniki. The most famous are 6th century mosaic figures of the saints in the Church of Cosmas and Damian in Rome (formerly Bibliotheca Pacis). Saints Cosmas and Damian are also featured on the icons depicting selected saints, located in the St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev and on icons by Dionysius at St. Pherapontus monastery.

Cosmas and Damian of Rome (martyrs) are commemorated on July 14 (July 1, O.S.), Arabian October 30 (October 17, O.S.) and Asia Minor November 14 (November 1, O.S.).

Zhanna G. Belik,

Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.

Olga E. Savchenko,

research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.


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