Saints of Italy – The Five Companions

[Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian]In the time of the Emperor Diocletian there lived in the city of Egea an honourable and God-fearing woman named Theodata, who daily observed the commands of the Lord, but her heart was ever sorrowful, because she had no child, and her husband reproached her. When she had borne her trouble patiently for many years, God at length granted her heart’s desire, and she became the mother of two fair sons, whom she named Cosmo and Damiano. They grew up full of grace in mind and body, and resembled one another as closely as two lilies that bloom together in a field, going ever side by side in the ways, and bearing themselves with like gentleness and meekness. Their mother brought them up with great care in the Christian faith, and when they were old enough caused them to be taught the art of medicine, wherein they attained, in a short space, marvellous skill, for they were able to restore the blind, the deaf, and the dumb, and heal every manner of infirmity, drawing all bitter humours from the human body. They would take no reward from rich or poor for what they did, that they might obey the will of the Lord, and impart to others freely that gift which He had so freely bestowed upon them.

The fame of the brothers was quickly noised abroad, and a certain sick woman named Palladia, who had spent all her substance upon physicians, and profited little by them, hearing of the twins, immediately ran and threw herself at their feet, beseeching them to come and visit her. They, seeing her faith, went with her gladly, and entering into her house, straightway made her whole. After they had all given thanks to God together, the brothers departed, but as Damiano was stepping forth the woman caught him by the sleeve, and, showing him a little bag containing three eggs, besought him to accept it. He refused, and turned hastily away; but Palladia called after him, and adjured him loudly in the Name of the Lord to take her gift, whereupon he returned and carried it away. When Cosmo saw what had been done he was much troubled, judging his brother to have sinned, and he refused to lie beside Damiano that night, and in his wroth cried out that neither should they be buried in the same sepulchre when they were dead. And it came to pass that as Cosmo was sleeping apart, the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Wherefore art thou angered with thy brother, scorning this treasure which the woman gave him? Thou mayst ask no reward for thy works, but she offered this gift in My Name, wherefore My servant Damiano took it.” Then Cosmo awoke, and, calling his brother, told his dream and asked Damiano’s pardon, and they wept on each other’s necks for joy that the Lord was not displeased with them. And when they rose up in the morning, they feasted merrily on the eggs.

So great were the wonders wrought by the twin physicians that many, seeing them to be Christians, were converted to the faith. Among these were three brothers, Anthino, Leontio, and Euprepio, who, abandoning the pleasures of the world, accompanied the twins wherever they went, assisting them in their good works. Not only did the Five Companions minister to human beings, but likewise to sick and suffering beasts. One day they met a merchant with a camel, which was so enfeebled by the diabolical arts of a sorcerer that it had sunk upon its knees and was unable to rise, and its eyes beginning to roll, it appeared on the point of death. Its master stood weeping beside it, knowing not how to bring himself and his merchandise to the journey’s end. The Companions comforted him, and crying in a loud voice, they commanded the devil, in the Name of the Lord, to depart out of the camel, and immediately the beast rose upon its feet and moved forwards as strong and well as before.

About this time the Emperor Diocletian, inflamed with malice against the Church, ordered a persecution of the Christians throughout his dominions. Then Lysias, the Prefect of the province in which the Companions lived, sent officers to spy out the Christians and bring reports concerning them; and they returning, told him of Cosmo and Damiano, how they went about in all the cities and villages, healing the sick and casting out unclean spirits, so that the people, seeing these things which they did, believed in Him who is called Christ, and refused to sacrifice to the gods. Lysias directed the officers to go and lay hold upon the holy brothers, which being done, Cosmo and Damiano were brought into the judgment hall, and stood before the Prefect with joyful countenances. He, looking upon them angrily, said, “What is this that I hear, that you go about persuading the people to fall away from the worship of the gods? ” And he asked their names, and who were their companions, and commanded that Anthino, Leontio, and Euprepio should also be led before him, who, being summoned, came gladly with the officers. Then Lysias ordered them to tell him what gift the goddess Fortune had bestowed upon them, which enabled them to perform such wonderful cures. Cosmo answered boldly, “We know not the goddess Fortune, for we are Christians, and in the Name of the Lord we do our works.” At this the Prefect was very wroth, and told them to sacrifice immediately to the gods, threatening them with torments if they refused to obey; but they cried out one and all together, saying again and again, ” We scorn thy torments, and are not afraid. Do thy worst, but never will we call by the name of God deaf and dumb idols which are but stones and brass.” The Prefect then ordered that they should be bound and tormented, and the executioners, seizing them, inflicted upon them scourgings and many grievous pains; yet the Companions faltered not, but sang in the midst of the torments, saying, ” Lord, thou hast been our refuge from one generation to another. Before the mountains were built or the round earth was made firm. Thou wast and for ever more shalt be. Have mercy upon us, and free us from the power of the devil and his son, Lysias the Prefect.” Praying thus, they remained unhurt, and called upon the judge to prove them with yet more cruel pains, if it were possible to devise any, so that he might perceive that nought could prevail against them, Christ being their help.

At last Lysias bade the executioners desist, and unbind the Saints. He said to them, “I thought by means of these mild sufferings to have persuaded you, but now I perceive that you are resolved to persevere in your disobedience, therefore I shall not suffer you to live any longer.” Turning to the officers, he said, “Take Cosmo and Damiano, and bind them in chains, and cast them into the sea; but their companions shall be preserved alive and thrown into a deep dungeon, for, being young, they may yet consent to return to the gods.”

Then the holy brothers, exulting and crying, “Take heed, for shortly you shall see the power of the Lord revealed in us,” bade a tender farewell to the others, and submitted themselves joyfully to be bound and led away. As they went they sang again, saying, “Though we walk in the midst of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we will fear no evil, for Thou art with us, Thy rod and Thy staff shall comfort us;” and again, “Thou hast anointed our heads with oil, and with the cup of Thy New Testament hast Thou inebriated us; Thy mercy shall follow us all the days of our life, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” And they came to the seashore, and the officers took and cast them into the sea. Scarcely was this done, when lo! the angel of the Lord appeared in the sky, and with swift wings flying down, broke their bonds asunder, and led them up unhurt out of the waters.

The officers and all the people, seeing what was done, wondered greatly, and ran and told the Prefect, who, sending for the Saints, said to them, ” By the great gods Hercules and Jove, I adjure you to tell me by what magic power you are able to despise torments and vanquish the fury of the sea. Teach me your secret knowledge, and I will follow you to the ends of the earth.” Cosmo and Damiano answered, ” We have no magic power. We are but simple Christians, and in the Name of Christ we bring to nought the wiles of the Evil One.” Lysias exclaimed, ” In the name of my gods, who are the gods of Rome, I will follow you.” When he had said this, immediately the angels sent two evil spirits, which set on him, and beat him unmercifully about the head and face, till he cried out to Cosmo and Damiano, ” I beseech you, good soldiers of Christ, pray to your Lord to deliver me from these demons;” and they prayed, and the demons straightway left him, whereupon Lysias, blinded by his wickedness, said, “See now how much the gods are angered against me, for they sent evil spirits because I would have forsaken them.” The brothers answered, ” Thou wilt not understand, O foolish man; but know that it is God who has chastened thee; and put not thy trust in deaf and dumb idols, the work of men’s hands.” Then the judge was moved to great anger, and crying, ” I will not endure thy blasphemy any longer,” he caused them to be imprisoned with their companions, while he considered how he might compass their destruction. And they ceased not to sing night and day in the dungeon.

After three days Lysias sent for all five, and asked if they still persisted in their madness; and they cried out, “Thou vile enemy, we are Christians and witnesses for the truth unto the end, and we will not consent to deny the Lord of all, who made us when as yet we were not. Now do thy vengeance upon us.” The Prefect, hearing himself thus defied, fell into a dreadful rage, and ordered his people to bring faggots and make a great fire; and the executioners took the Companions, and flung them into it. And behold! they walked about in the midst of the fire as if they were in Paradise, and kneeling down, they glorified the Lord, singing, “To Thee will we lift up our eyes, O Thou that dwellest in heaven.” Suddenly the flames leapt out on either side, and, catching the executioners and many of the multitude that stood around, scorched them so that they died. But those holy ones stepped out unscathed, neither was a hair of their heads touched by the fire.

The Prefect, astounded and half persuaded to believe, accused them again of using magic arts, and when they indignantly denied, menaced them with further torments if they would not obey the will of the Emperor. “We scorn thy Emperor,” they responded. “We have a heavenly King, who is Christ the Lord.”

He then ordered them to be fastened to stakes and stoned, but the stones, missing the Companions, fell back upon the executioners and crushed them; and Lysias, full of wrath at seeing his officers wounded and put to shame, called for four companies of soldiers, and ordered them to shoot at the Saints with arrows. The soldiers drew their bows, and shot till all their arrows were expended, but they could not touch their victims, and the arrows rebounding, slew great multitudes of impious people who had run together to that place.

At last Lysias, seeing all his malicious devices baffled, and vexed almost to the point of death, commanded that their heads should be cut off with a sword. The officers led them away to the place of execution outside the city, and as they went they sang for the space of a whole hour, saying, ” Good is it to trust in the Lord, and to praise Thy Name, O Lord Most High, for Thou hast magnified Thy mercy upon us.” And when they were come there they all knelt down, and stretched their hands towards the east, and raising their eyes to heaven, glorified God in their hearts. Then for the space of another hour they said, ” Amen, Amen,” and the executioners approaching, cut off their heads; and so in peace they gave their souls to God.

Then pious men came and took up the bodies of the Saints, and remembering that Cosmo had said that he would not be buried with his brother, they were puzzled to know how and where they might lay their bodies separately. Now, the camel whom the brothers had healed of its sickness, happening to be in that place with its master, all at once stepped forward and began to speak with a human voice, saying, ” Men of God, who have seen many signs and wonders done by these holy martyrs, not only on men like yourselves, but likewise on us beasts who serve you, hearken unto me, who am sent to tell you that you shall not part the bodies of Cosmo and Damiano, but shall lay them in one sepulchre together.” Then all those who followed the funeral procession were astonished, and praised God who deigned to reveal mysteries by the mouth of dumb and irrational creatures; and they did as the camel had said, and buried Cosmo and Damiano in one grave, and their three companions beside them.

Now, this was done that those twin brothers, who were united by one spirit and one faith, might rest together in peace till they should be called to celestial glory.

After a time many pilgrims came to visit the sepulchres of the Saints, and especially those that suffered with divers diseases, for on touching the tombs they were made whole. And these holy martyrs became famous throughout the whole world, and were held in great reverence, many beautiful churches and sanctuaries being built in their names to the glory of God, and often were they seen to appear and heal the sick. Many years after their death it happened in the great city of Rome that a certain pious man, the sacristan of a church dedicated to Cosmo arid Damiano, was afflicted with a deadly disease, which was consuming his leg so that he endured intolerable torment, and was like to die. One night as he lay sleeping in the sacristy, the twin Saints appeared at his bedside, bearing iinguents and bandages. They knelt down and felt his leg, and turned it this way and that, and when they had well seen how grievous was the evil, one said to the other, “Where may we find flesh, brother, so that, having cut out the diseased part, we may fill up the place that is left?” The other answered, “In the cemetery out yonder lies an Ethiopian, who has been buried this very day. Let us go and take flesh from him to supply what is needed here.” They vanished, and presently returned, carrying between them the leg of the Moor, and cutting off the diseased limb of the sacristan, fixed the other in its stead; then, having carefully oiled and bound the wound, they took the sick leg and joined it on to the body of the Moor. When the sacristan awoke in the morning he marvelled to feel no pain, and, putting his hand to his leg, searched in vain for the usual wound. Then he took a candle and looked closely, and was beyond measure rejoiced to find his limb whole and sound, and, seeing that it was not the leg which he had had before, for this one was black, he understood that a miracle had been wrought upon him, and full of amazement and joy, ran forth to relate to the neighbours how San Cosmo and San Damiano had healed him in his sleep; whereupon they all assembled together in the church and gave praise to God.

In the same city there was a good man named Malcho, who took note of all the wonders done by the holy martyrs. One day he said to his wife, ” Let us go to the Church of San Cosmo and San Damiano.” She went with him readily, and being come there, he told her how he was compelled to take a journey into a far country, and bade her reside beside the church, adding, “And this shall be the sign, that when the Lord willeth, I will send for thee in the names of the holy brothers.” Thereupon he set forth, and after a few days the Evil One, changing himself into the semblance of a man, came to the woman and said, “Behold, thy husband has sent me from a certain city, to bring thee to him.” She, not willing to go with a stranger, answered, “Thou hast not given me the sign, without which I may not accompany thee, but if thou wouldest have me believe in thee, take hold of the horn of the altar, and swear that thou wilt do me no harm.” And the devil swore, saying, “By the virtue of San Cosmo and San Damiano, I will present thee safe to thy husband.” Then she went with him.

When they were now come to a secret place, the Evil One took hold of her to throw her from her mule and kill her; whereupon she raised her eyes to heaven, and cried in a loud voice, ” O God of Cosmo and Damiano, send thy servants quickly to deliver me from this wicked devil, for I followed him, trusting in them.” Immediately there appeared in the sky two horsemen, shining like the sun, attended by a multitude clothed all in white. The prince of darkness, beholding them, vanished instantly, so that the Scripture might be fulfilled, which says, “He has dug a pit, and fallen into it himself; ” and the servants of Christ took the woman and brought her back to the church, saying to her, “We are Cosmo and Damiano, in whom thou didst trust, and therefore have we hastened to thine aid.”

Many other marvels, which it would take too long to relate, were performed by the holy brothers, and likewise by their three fellow-martyrs, and they blessed the labours of all physicians and surgeons, to the advancement of the art of healing, and to the glory of God, to whom be honour and praise for ever and ever. Amen.

- from Saints of Italy, by Ella Noyes; J M Dent and Sons, London, 1901