Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Basilica of Ss Cosmas and Damian

For today’s feast of the martyrs Ss Cosmas and Damian, our friend Jordan Hainsey sent in some photographs which he took of the Roman basilica dedicated to them, which is one of the oldest in the city. In 2007, he did some work with the art conservator who was restoring the church’s high altar, which he describes as “an amazing opportunity to see decades of dirt and soot removed from precious marble, and see precious frescos regain their brilliance and clarity.” In the first photo, he is standing on the high altar helping to lift up and place the 75 pound gold candlesticks. Of special interest, the candlesticks had fascinating 19th century extenders which allowed for smaller candles while giving the illusion of a tall candle. The descriptions which follow are all by Jordan.

The Basilica of Ss Cosmas and Damian is located in the very heart of ancient and modern Rome. The building was originally a Roman structure that belonged to Vespasian’s Forum of Peace, and may have been one of the libraries of that forum. It was rebuilt and consecrated as a church by Pope St Felix IV in 527. The circular structure known as the Temple of Romulus in the Roman Forum is incorporated into the church. The basilica was entrusted to the Franciscan Friars T.O.R. in 1503 and remains in their care. Over the past decade, it has been extensively restored, starting with the high altar in 2007. Since then, the side chapels have been cleaned and restored, along with the choir in the apse behind the altar.

The high altar was designed by Domenico Castelli at the order of Fr. Ludovico Ciotti, and constructed in 1638. The four black and white marble columns formerly supported the baldachino above an ancient altar in the crypt. In the 18th century, the tabernacle was fashioned from ebony and stone, mixed marble, and bronze.


This cosmatesque ambry was donated by Cardinal Guido Pisano in 1150. It is of white marble, with a mosaic of patterned glass set into the wall; the wooden doors are painted in gold leaf.


The apse mosaic dates from 527-530 A.D. Christ the Judge stands above the dramatically colored clouds; this is the first time in Western art that Christ is depicted as an Easterner, like the Saints to whom the church is dedicated, who were from Arabia. The Apostle Peter presents Cosmas and the Apostle Paul presents Damian so that they may receive the crown of their martyrdom. At the far left, Pope Felix IV presents the model of the basilica, and to the far right stands the soldier St Theodore; the latter is dressed as a Byzantine official in a cloak with a square purple cloth sewn on it, one of the insignia of a magistrate in the court of Justinian. A procession of sheep make up the lower band, moving from Bethlehem and Jerusalem towards the Divine Lamb from Whom spring up the rivers of life: the Geon, Phison, Tigris and Euphrates.





Reliquaries of Ss Cosmas and Damian


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