Santi Cosma e Damiano


Today we visit the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian. Cosmas and Damian excelled in medicine and offered their services for free. During the Diocletian persecutions, they were arrested. Because they would not renounce their faith, they were tortured. They suffered no injury during an attempted drowning or when they were burned. Crucifixion did not kill them either. They did finally die by the sword, when they were beheaded. We remember them in the Roman Canon at Mass.

The church we visit today, located just outside the Roman Forum, dates back all the way to the first century A.D. Actually, the building dates back that far; the structure was not dedicated a church until the sixth century. The body of the church was built by Vespasian sometime between A.D. 69-79 and used as a government building. Another building, actually in the Roman Forum, was built beside this one as a mausoleum for Maxentius’ son. It was known as the Temple of Romulus. Pope Felix IV joined the two buildings and rededicated them a church. This was the first time a pagan temple was converted to a church in the Roman Forum.

Inside the apse is an unusual mosaic. It shows the Christ of the Second Coming, not the more common Christ Enthroned. He’s standing on some very bright and very colorful clouds wearing a golden robe, looking very Roman.

As a cartophile, I must mention that on the exterior wall of the Temple of Romulus there once hung 150 marble slabs in which was carved a map of third century Rome, known as the Forma Urbis. This map was so detailed, at a scale of 1 to 240, that it even included floor plans to every temple, bath and apartment in central Rome. Over time the map was taken apart and much of the marble was used to build other structures. Only about ten percent of the map has been recovered. Stanford University has digitized all the surviving fragments and is now working on filling in the pieces, though the procedure is slightly more involved than just putting together a puzzle.


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