Friday, September 25, 2009

Cosmos & Damian - September 26

September 26 is the commemoration of St. Cosmos and Damian, third century Syrian martyrs believed to have been twins and doctors.

These are two rather obscure saints but I've always been interested in the basilica dedicated to them since I visited it on my 2004 Trip to Italy.

I splurged for a private tour and our guide was art historian
Elizabeth Lev, who is kind of famous now. It was some of my best spent money on this vacation. She was excellent.

I think you could easily miss this gem of a church - it isn't very exciting on the outside, but the inside mosaic and the historical significance of the church should it put it on your "to see list" when (not if) you go to Rome.

Although Constantine legalized Christianity in the fourth century, Christians were not emboldened to build a church in the middle of the pagan dominated forum until two hundred years later in 526 AD.

Interesting that it was dedicated to twin saints and Romans have a thing for twins (think founders Romulus and Remus) And the basilica was built right across from a temple dedicated to twin gods Castor and Pollux.

You go inside this unremarkable building and are presented with a gorgeous 6th century mosaic. It is all the more impressive because the church has been raised higher than its original floor and you are much closer to the mosaic than normal and can really enjoy it.

The mosaic is of St. Peter and St. Paul presenting each of the twins to Christ in heaven. They
are both wearing togas. At one time Rome was a symbol of oppression and persecution of the faithful. Now saints wear Roman togas in heaven. It is Liz who pointed out that the faces of Cosmos and Damien are dark and Semitic, preparing the Romans for a religion that is from that part of the world.

Anyway you really should check it out on your next trip to Italy. And if you go to the Vatican, get Liz to give you a tour if she's still doing that. Wish I had.

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