Lenten Station Churches of Rome
Thursday: Santi Cosma e Damiano
Sitting discreetly to the side of the Roman Forum, the small basilica of Ss. Cosmas and Damian can boast of not only a longer history of use than that ancient center of government, but also of that use continuing to the present day. In fact, parts of this basilica date back to the time of the ancient forum, these structures being converted into a church in honor of these two saints some time later. Ss. Cosmas and Damian were two brothers in the medical profession, who used their skills to heal people without seeking payment. Although there are different traditions concerning their martyrdom, it seems likely that they suffered during the Diocletian persecutions in the early fourth century in the city of Aegea, then in Roman Syria. Brought before the tribunal, they were tortured before being killed by decapitation, likely in 303. Some years later their relics were brought to the city of Cyr, before being brought to Rome during the time of Pope St. Gregory the Great.
Some of the walls of the current structure can be traced as far back as the Emperor Vespasian, who reigned from A.D. 69 to 79. Some time later a secular basilica was built on the site, which had a similar shape but a different purpose than later ones built for religious purposes. Pope Felix IV modified the structure to include an adjacent circular temple, built at a later date than the secular basilica had been, for use as a house of worship and dedicated it around the year 530. The beautiful mosaics that survive until the present are from this time, with some restorations, and would in turn inspire many others in the city. The interior was refurbished about 150 years later, and in the late eighth century it was restored for use as a deaconry by Pope Adrian I. The basilica continued without any significant changes until the baroque period. At that time, spurred on by the rediscovery of the relics of the brother saints in 1582, Pope Clement VIII added side chapels to the nave in 1602. This was followed by a more significant renovation under Urban VIII which saw a new floor installed at the actual ground level. This had the effect of cutting off the lower half of the church from sight, as well as allowing for a closer viewing of the apse mosaic. The general interior arrangement remained unchanged until the late twentieth century, when the floor of the circular part of the church was removed.