November 1 – Cosmas and Damian; All Saints

The Wonderworking Unmercenaries* Cosmas and Damian of Asia Minor (date unk.) should not be confused with Cosmas & Damian of Rome (Jul 1) or with Cosmas & Damian of Arabia. Okay, that’s out of the way. Today’s C&D were brothers raised in Christian piety in Asia Minor, and grew up to be righteous, virtuous, and doctors. They healed for free, which is why they’re called “Unmercenary,” through means medical and miracle, which is why they’re called “Wonderworking.” As for why they’re called Cosmas and Damian, you’d have to ask their mother. They also healed animals, also for free.

Once through fervent prayer they healed a woman named Palladia, whom all the other doctors had given up on. As they were leaving the house, she offered Damian three eggs, imploring him to take them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Damian (unmercenary though he was) felt he could not turn down such a theologically accurate request. When Cosmas learned what had happened, his nose became so out of joint that years later, on his deathbed, he requested that his brother not be buried anywhere near him. Damian died not long after, and while the mourners were debating where to bury his body, who should wander up but a camel that had been treated by the saints years before. “Go ahead and bury them together,” the camel said, “because Damian took the eggs out of reverence for the Holy Trinity, and not as payment.” “Huh? What eggs?” the mourners asked, but the camel was gone. They buried the two together.

Years later, a church sprang up at their grave site, and a man living nearby departed on a journey (these events are unrelated). The Enemy of Mankind [sic] then took on the guise of a family friend, told the traveler’s wife he (the traveler) wanted her, and offered to lead her to him. She followed the evil one, and when he was just about to kill her, two wild men appeared and pushed him over a cliff. They escorted the woman to her home, and only then identified themselves as Cosmas and Damian (“the Asia Minor ones, mind,” they may have added), whereupon they vanished. For this reason (the rescue, not the vanishment) they are considered patron saints of the sanctity of Christian marriage.

The Feast of All Saints is observed on this day in the Christian west (Orthodoxen celebrate All Saints on the first Sunday after Pentecost). The day specifically celebrates saints both known and unknown, making it unlike days which only celebrate known saints (such as St. Patrick’s Day (Mar 17), on which we celebrate—well, no spoilers). To learn the history of this celebration, come with me on a trip down memory lane to May 13 of the year 609 (or maybe 610), when Pope Boniface IV (or maybe V) (kidding; it was definitely IV) consecrated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin and All the Martyrs. Now let us jump ahead to Pope Gregory III (731–741), who moved the date to November 1 and suppressed the May 13 date, on account of its being associated with the earlier pagan Feast of the Lemures (not to be confused with the Feast of the Lemurs, on which Norwegians living beneath sea cliffs eat a lot of rodents—wait, that’s lemmings; nevermind), on which the spirits of the dead were propitiated. November 1 was of course the pagan Celtic feast of Samhain, on which the Aos Sí (fairies) were propitiated, but if Gregory knew this, he didn’t mention it in his memoir.

The day was made a day of obligation throughout the Frankish Empire in 835, and remains so throughout the Latin Rite. All Saints is (are?) the patron(s) of Arzignano, Italy.