July 1 – Cosmas and Damien of Rome; Oliver Plunkett

Cosmas and Damian of Rome (d. ca. 234) should not be confused with Cosmas and Damian of Asia Minor (Nov 1), nor Cosmas and Damian of Cilicia in Arabia. They often are, apparently, but they shouldn’t be. Today’s C&D were brothers brought up in piety in Rome (or vice versa). Granted the gift of healing, they became unmercenaries*, meaning they charged no copay. When Emperor Carinus began murdering Christians, some of them hid our saints. The soldiers sent to find them just rounded up other Christians and started killing them instead, at which point the brothers came forward and said, “Hey wait. Kill us and let them go free.” They were duly arrested. My source doesn’t say if the others were set free.

At their trial they were accused of healing by witchcraft, which they (duh) denied. That Carinus might experience the healing power of God, Cosmas and Damian prayed that he be struck blind, and he was. He begged them to heal him, promising to worship the true God. They did, and he did, and let them go free. Sadly their former instructor, jealous of their fame, lured them out of the city to gather herbs and murdered them, throwing their bodies into a river. I have no information on whether their relics were recovered.

Oliver Plunkett (1629–1681) had more earls and lords in his family tree than a Payday bar has nuts. (He may have had nuts in his family too.) When the Irish Confederate Wars, a lovely set of tea parties[1] between Catholics, Irish Anglicans, English Anglicans, and Protestants [sic], were making being Catholic in Ireland downright dangerous, he left for Rome, not returning until Charles II was crowned. He (Oliver) was made Bishop of Armagh (the “primatial see” of Ireland) and shipped home. Once back, he established schools for both youth and clergy (whom he found “ignorant in moral theology and controversies”), fought against drunkenness among the Irish clergy (which is open to so many cheap jokes we’re just going to let it slide under the table), and established a college in Drogheda which was open to Protestants, can you imagine, making it the first “integrated” school in Ireland.

In 1673 Parliament passed the Test Act, requiring public office-holders to swear to the supremacy of the King (over the Church), and to agree under oath that there is no such thing as transubstantiation. Oliver spoke openly against the Act, and was forced into hiding. When it became clear that the government in Dublin wasn’t going to enforce the act on Catholic bishops, he resumed his duties. In 1678 a new wave of anti-Catholicism tsunamied across the Irish Sea—a backlash against the subexistent “Popish Plot,” a supposed attempt to invade Britain with French troops. (The real Popish Plot is if course a small patch of garden in the Vatican where they grow peas and stuff.) The whole thing appears to be a political maneuver by the former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to discredit his successor.

Oliver again went on the lam. Sort of. Between staying in Dublin and continuing to run the archdiocese, he was fairly easy to nab, and he was. He was tried in England (they knew he could never be convicted in Ireland) for plotting various military actions, but found innocent. He was tried again on the high treason charge of “promoting the Roman faith,” and found guilty. The King felt convinced of his innocence but feared to intervene, so Oliver was hanged, drawn, and quartered, the last Roman Catholic martyr to die in England. His body was buried in two boxes, then exhumed. His head went from England to Rome to Armagh to Drogheda, and various other relics reside in England, Ireland, France, Germany, the United States, and Australia.


[1] Sarcasm.