Tuesday, 26 September 2006

The Feast of the Anargyri

Today is the feast of everyone's favourite medical saints, Cosmas the Physician and Damian the Apothecary, known as the Anargyri ('the silverless' or 'the unmercenaries') on account of their practice of not charging for their services. No wonder they were so popular. The twins famously grafted the leg of a dead Ethiopian to replace a living man's ulcered leg, a 'miracle' much celebrated in art:

They brought many of their patients to Christ but were finally condemned to death under Diocletian around the year 300. After various gruesome tortures they were beheaded, together with their other siblings Antimo, Leonzio and Euprepio.

Their basilica in Rome, not far from the Colosseum, was built in the sixth century by Felix IV and is famed for its mosaics. Such were the saints popularity in the seventh century that, as well as the celebration of 27 September [changed for some irritating reason to 26 September in the New Calendar], there was an addition feast in Rome on the following Sunday, die domenico ad sanctos Cosmae et Damiano ante natale eorum. This was for the benefit of the workers who could not attend the celebrations during the week.

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