Sts. Cosmas and Damien: Did They Perform the First Successful Medical Transplant?

Sts. Cosmas and Damien: Did They Perform the First Successful Medical Transplant? September 25, 2014

Who are Cosmas and Damien? Their names are mentioned in the Canon of the Mass (Eucharistic Prayer I).   A church was erected on their burial place, and  a famous basilica was built in their honor in Constantinople.  The Church in the West celebrates their memorial on September 26. But little is known about these twin brothers who lived and died during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian. According to legend, the twins lived in Arabia and became skilled doctors.  In the East, they are venerated as the “moneyless ones” because they refused to charge a fee for their services–instead helping rich and poor alike to find comfort and healing.  One story that has been told is that they successfully performed the first leg transplant:  They saved the life of a deacon by the name of Justinian by amputating his diseased leg and replacing it with the leg of another man, a black man, who had died.

In a time of persecution, their steadfast faith in Christ angered the Roman emperor; and they were executed.  Again, legend tells us that they suffered no injury from water, fire, air, nor on the cross, and were finally beheaded with the sword on September 27, 287. Their three brothers, Anthimus, Leontius, and Euprepius died as martyrs with them.  Their feast day was originally September 27, the day of their death; but it was moved to September 26 when the liturgical calendar was revised to include St. Vincent de Paul. Cosmas and Damien are the patrons of pharmacists, physicians and surgeons.

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