Santi Cosma e Damiano (Rome)

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View from the Palatine Hill on the so-called Temple of Romulus and the Church of SS. Cosma e Damiano

The Church of Santi Cosma e Damiano ( Latin Sanctorum Cosmae et Damiani ) is a church in Rome consecrated to the brothers Kosmas and Damian , holy doctors and martyrs . It is a Roman titular diaconia , rectorate church and former parish church and monastery church of the Third Regulated Order of St. Francis (TOR) . It was also the station church on Thursday in the third week of fasting and has the rank of minor basilica .


The church is located in the immediate vicinity of the Roman Forum between the ancient Via Sacra and today's Via dei Fori Imperiali on the site of the former Forum Pacis . The building was part of the Templum Pacis (Temple of Peace ), which Emperor Vespasian commissioned in 71 AD after his victory in the Jewish War . The walls of the church building are the only part of the peace temple that is still standing today. They formed the southeast boundary of the Forum Pacis Vespasiani and are directly opposite the former apse of the Maxentius basilica .

History of the buildings and furnishings

Fragment of the forma urbis , here as an example the Basilica Ulpia and the library of the Trajan's Forum.

The Templum Pacis also had a large hall, the so-called Aula Flavia, which probably served as the library of the temple complex. Under Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211) the Flavian Hall was used as a cadastral authority and converted into the seat of the city prefecture (praefectura urbis). That will have been the reason to put a relief of 150 marble slabs with the floor plan of the city of Rome (approx. 18 × 13 m), known as Forma Urbis Romae, on the northeast inner wall of this hall between 203 and 211 . Remnants of this monumental city map, which was destroyed in the Middle Ages, are kept in the Conservator's Palace on the Capitol. Around 309, Emperor Maxentius had a round brick building with a domed roof and columned portico erected between the Aula Flavia and the Via Sacra, which was formerly known as the Temple of Romulus (Tempio del Divo Romolo) because it was mistakenly named for the mausoleum of Valerius Romulus , who in the The late son of Emperor Maxentius. Today it is assumed that the round temple was consecrated to the Jupiter stator ("which brings the enemy to a standstill"), or that the statues of the Penates , whose previous temple had to give way to the new building of the Maxentius Basilica, were placed in it. The Flavian Hall was shortened in the 4th century by an apse-like wall in the west and realigned via a monumental entrance through the Romulus temple to the forum, although the round temple was at an angle to the hall; At the same time, the interior walls were given a precious marble cladding. Between 495 and 525, the building complex was restored under the Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great before he and his daughter Amalasuntha handed it over to Pope Felix IV for use as a church. Together with the church of Santa Maria Antiqua , Santi Cosma e Damiano is one of the earliest examples of the conversion of a secular building into a Christian church.

Floor plan of the round temple, church and monastery with cloister

Pope Gregory the Great donated 590-604 a precious altar made of alabaster on a Confession for the transferred him to Rome relics of the patron saint and held here his 13th homily on Evangelienperikopen . Under Pope Sergius I (687-701), the church received an ambo and a new ciborium with four black and white columns, which were reused in the high altar built in 1638. In 725 Pope Gregory II introduced the station service in the basilica. The selected gospel pericope from the Gospel of Luke ( Lk 4, 38-44  EU ) about the healing of Peter's mother-in-law alludes to the patronage of the medical brothers Kosmas and Damian and the associated term "healing".

Between 772 and 795, Hadrian I had the roof of the church restored, assigned fields, oil gardens and servants, and made it the diakonia of a cardinal deacon . Under Pope Leo III. It was then painstakingly restored and received generous donations and paramedics from Paschal I (817 to 824). In October 827, Gregory IV was elected Bishop of Rome here .

A new ciborium was donated by Cardinal Guido around 1150 , with the design of the brothers Giovanni, Pietro, Angelo and Sasso, the sons of the Roman marble master Paolo, who had built the ciborium for Saint Lawrence outside the walls as early as 1148 . The altar was rededicated by Hadrian IV (1154 to 1159). The 12th century campanile, still visible on old views, collapsed as a result of the earthquake of 1600 and destroyed part of the church and the apse mosaic. The tower was later replaced by a campanile a vela (free-standing wall with bell openings) next to the current entrance on Via dei Fori Imperiali.

Since 1512 the church and monastery have belonged to the order of the Franciscan Terziaren, who were settled there by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (later Pope Paul III).

In 1602, on behalf of Clemens VIII , the restoration of the church building, which had been damaged by earthquakes, began and three longitudinal chapels were installed in the original nave. Pope Urban VIII (1623–1644) ordered a fundamental redesign of the church in order to drain the building in the now boggy forum area and at the same time to be able to design it in the new architectural forms of the Baroque. For this purpose, an intermediate ceiling was installed in the church and the round temple, which reduced the height of the interior of the church by about 7 meters; It was apparently accepted that this would adversely affect the impression of the space inside the church and the effect of the large-format apse mosaic. During the renovation, the apse arch and front wall of the apse were also narrowed, also to the detriment of the mosaic . The baroque redesign by architect Luigi Arrigucci was completed in 1638. The lower church resulting from the renovation is now accessible from the Via Sacra and also through the monastery; it still contains the altar mess above the Confessio , donated by Gregory the Great . In the chancel there are also remains of a Kosmaten floor that was laid around 1150 . The coffered ceiling from 1632 contains, in addition to the coat of arms of Pope Urban VIII (with the three bees), a large painting by Marco Tullio Montagna with the apotheosis of the titular saint and the Mother of God.

In 1638 the church received a new high altar based on a design by Domenico Castelli. The four black and white marble columns of the canopy from the altar of the lower church were reused. The icon on the high altar "Madonna della Salute" dates from the 13th century; it is probably a copy of an older icon of Mary from the early Christian church. The pulpit and other furniture in the church date from around 1640.

The Easter candlestick created by Kosmaten in the 13th century has also been preserved . In 1637 the fresco with Christ as Kyrios was transferred from the lower church to the Kreuzkapelle (first chapel on the right); the mural, probably from the 8th century, but painted over several times, shows Christ standing before the cross as the living ruler of the world .

On July 13, 1862, the parish of Sant'Adriano al Foro was transferred to Santi Cosma e Damiano in Via Sacra after the extensive excavations at the Roman Forum had made it necessary. With the restructuring of the parishes in the historical center of Rome, the parish of Santi Cosma e Damiano was abolished in January 1986. Since then the church has been the rectorate church in the parish of San Marco Evangelista al Campidoglio .

In connection with excavations at the Roman Forum, the earlier entrance through the so-called Romulus Temple was moved to Via dei Fori Imperiali in 1947. In the back wall of the church, a large pane of glass provides a glimpse into the interior of the so-called Romulus temple on the Via Sacra.

The present monastery with cloister was built around 1632. In a room next to the cloister there is an artistically significant Neapolitan nativity scene from the 18th century. It can also be viewed outside of Christmas time.

Apse mosaic

Apse mosaic, around 530
Right side: Petrus, Kosmas and Theodor

The large apse mosaic, which is one of the most important early Christian works of art in Rome, was created under Pope Felix IV (526-530). It has essentially been preserved; the edges were trimmed by baroque building measures and the group of figures on the left had to be restored after the campanile collapsed. The diameter of the apse half-dome with the mosaic is 15.80 m.

The theme of the mosaic is the return of Christ as judge of the world: Christ (in full form) hovers over a colorful carpet of clouds from the heavenly sphere ; the carpet of clouds connecting heaven and earth becomes wider and more colorful in the foreground. From right and left, Peter and Paul lead the two church patrons Kosmas and Damian (with laurel wreaths as a sign of their martyrdom ) to Christ. Pope Felix IV joins on the left (as a founder with a church model). From the right, St. Theodore (with martyr's wreath) dressed as a Byzantine dignitary; the diamond-shaped cloth (tablion) on his cloak is interpreted as a badge of rank of the officers at the imperial court. Kosmas wears the red doctor's bag marked with a cross on his left arm, of which Damian only shows part of the back. Since the restoration of the left group of people (middle of the 17th century), Felix no longer wears a tiara and no longer holds the key as an attribute, but the church model.

An easily overlooked detail indicates this restoration work under Pope Urban VIII: On the green strip on the banks of the Jordan , at the feet of Felix IV and Damian, a red and two white flowers with three bees above them are depicted as if they were the coat of arms Urbans VIII. Would have been taken from the Barberini family . In fact, the restoration was commissioned by this Pope and it is also known that the numerous works of art donated by him in Rome show these three bees from his coat of arms. B. also the coffered ceiling drawn in in this church in 1632. It is of interest in this context that the family of this Pope with the real name Maffeo Barberini was originally called Tafani, which is the Italian name for horseflies, and therefore also had horseflies in their coat of arms. When the family came to Rome and Maffeo Barberini became Pope, the family was ennobled and the family refined the brakes in their coat of arms into bees.

Right and left the mosaic is framed by two palm trees as a sign of triumph for the martyrs; on the palm tree on the left sits a phoenix with a ray nimbus as a symbol of immortality. The lower end is the so-called lambs frieze with the lamb of God in the middle; it stands on the Paradise Mountain, from which the four named Paradise Rivers arise. The two times six sheep (symbols of the apostles ) come from the city silhouettes of Jerusalem (left) and Bethlehem , a motif that is shown here for the first time and is taken up again and again in the following years.

Mosaic on the apse arch

The only partially preserved mosaic on the front wall of the apse arch was probably made under Pope Sergius I (687-701). According to the original state handed down through an architectural drawing, the apocalyptic lamb rests on the gem throne under the cross; in front of it lies the scroll with the seven seals on a footstool (Revelation 5: 1f.) The throne is surrounded by seven burning candlesticks and two angels each. Of the four evangelist symbols , only those of Matthew (winged person) and John (eagle) can be seen.

Name and patronage

In 527 Pope Felix IV had consecrated the church to the martyrs Cosmas and Damian. The two brothers who worked as doctors suffered martyrdom under Emperor Diocletian (around 303) and from the end of the 4th century were greatly venerated, especially in the Eastern Church. With the patronage of these two physicians an attempt should be made to displace old pagan cults around the mythological brothers of the Dioscuri Castor and Pollux , whose temple of the Dioscuri was not far from the Roman Forum, as well as those around the healing gods Apollo and Aesculapius . Instead of the pagan salvation deities, the medical saints Kosmas and Damian, who worked “without silver”, were supposed to help the believers. Sometimes the church is also called as Santi Cosma e Damiano in Via Sacra , Santi Cosma e Damiano in tribus fatis , Santi Cosma e Damiano in Silice or Basilica beati Felicis . The name “in Via Sacra” refers to the ancient street on which the main entrance to the church was located. The addition “in Silice” goes back to the earlier oratorio of S. Petrus in Silice with the knee prints of the apostle Peter (silices apostolici), now part of the Romulus temple. The name Basilica beati Felicis goes back to Pope Gregory the Great.

Temple of Romulus

SS. Cosma e Damiano, still with the campanile destroyed in 1600, the so-called. Temple of Romulus in the foreground, engraving by Giovanni Battista Falda (1665)

The round temple (Temple of Romulus) erected around 309 on the east side of the Flavian Hall had two rectangular side rooms with an apsidal end and separate access to the sides of the main circular room (16 m diameter). Access to the round temple was originally through the antique bronze door that still exists today , framed by two porphyry columns and a richly decorated architrave . During the restoration of 1633, the temple's flat dome was given a lantern . A false ceiling was installed inside, which was later removed in order to restore this largely preserved antique round temple to its original state. Pope Paul I (757-767) had a cella located on the left side of the round temple set up as the oratorio of S. Peter in Silice to commemorate the legend according to which Peter kneeled down on the stone pavement of the Via Sacra and prayed , May God put a stop to the heretic Simon Magus's magic at the forum (Acts 8: 9-25). The stone slabs found there with impressions as if formed by the knees of the apostle are now walled in in the right transept of the Basilica of Santa Francesca Romana .

Cardinal deacons


  • Hans Georg Wehrens: Rome - The Christian sacred buildings from the 4th to the 9th century - A Vademecum . Herder Verlag, Freiburg 2016, p. 282ff.
  • Filippo Coarelli : ROM - The archaeological guide , Darmstadt / Mainz 2013, pp. 150–154ff.
  • Hugo Brandenburg : The early Christian churches in Rome from the 4th to the 7th century. Regensburg 2013, p. 242ff.
  • Lino Temperini: Basilica Santi Cosma e Damiano, Rome 1993, p. 3ff.
  • Walter Buchowiecki: Handbook of the Churches of Rome. The Roman sacred building in history and art from early Christian times to the present. Volume 1, Hollinek, Vienna 1967, pp. 586-603.

Web links

Commons : Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Filippo Coarelli: ROM - The archaeological guide , Darmstadt / Mainz 2013, p. 150ff.
  2. ^ Emilio Rodriguez-Almeida: Forma Urbis Antiquae - Le mappe marmoree di Roma tra la Republica e Settimio Severo, Rome 2002.
  3. Hans Georg Wehrens: Rome - The Christian sacred buildings from the 4th to the 9th century - Ein Vademecum , Freiburg 2016, p. 283ff. with true-to-scale floor plan and elevation Fig. 41.1 and 41.6;
  4. Jürgen J. Rasch: The dome in Roman architecture. Development, design, construction. In: Architectura. Vol. 15, 1985, ISSN  0044-863X , pp. 117-139, here 124.
  5. Hans Georg Wehrens: Rome - The Christian sacred buildings from the 4th to the 9th century - A Vademecum ; Freiburg 2016, p. 285f.
  6. Giovanna Barberini in the TV show "Barockes Rom" on 3SAT, originally SWR, 2005.
  7. Hans Georg Wehrens: Rome - The Christian sacred buildings from the 4th to the 9th century - A Vademecum ; Freiburg 2016, p. 287.
  8. Lexicon for Theology and Church, Freiburg 2006, Volume 6, Sp. 395.
  9. ^ Hugo Brandenburg: The early Christian churches in Rome from the 4th to the 7th century. Regensburg 2013, p. 243f.
  10. ^ Lino Temperini: Basilica Santi Cosma e Damiano, Rome 1993, p. 9.
  11. ^ Walter Buchowiecki: Handbook of the Churches of Rome. The Roman sacred building in history and art from early Christian times to the present. Volume 3, Vienna 1974, p. 49.

Coordinates: 41 ° 53 ′ 31.2 "  N , 12 ° 29 ′ 14.6"  E