Korean J Med Hist.  2020 Apr;29(1):165-214. 10.13081/kjmh.2020.29.165.

Religious Myths and their Historical Heritage: How did Saints Cosmas and Damian become Patron Saints of Surgery? - From the Miracle of the Black Legs to 21st Century Transplant Medicine - 

  • 1HK (“Humanities Korea”) Professor, Semiosis Research Center, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies


This paper explores the heritage and the essential significance of worship of the twin Christian saints -St. Cosmas and St. Damian- in the history of medicine. These saints are well known in Western culture as one of the leading Christian saints to heal diseases, whose cults have spread to Europe through Byzantium, which have continued to spread widely to the present, starting from areas where Christianity had been proselytized. Although it is true that their life journeys have undergone many processes of embellishment and beautification over the course of time, the attributes that distinctively characterize the two saints exist apart from such mythical fabrications. This paper categorizes the characteristics of the two saints as being those of “professional doctors,” “ideal doctors,” and “holders of healing powers” as intermediaries of God, examining how these characteristics came to affect various medical organizations during the era when Medieval medicine was gradually transitioning toward a rational approach based on reason. In addition, it discusses how some of the practices of ancient temple medicine were transplanted into the Christian culture, the process by which it finally arrived at human doctors through the two saints, and how it affected the establishment of professional work ethics -albeit in nascent form- as their medical ethics came to be accepted and practiced by the Medieval guild of surgeons. Furthermore, the paper considers how the existence of the two saints has acquired symbolism in modern medicine, which has made remarkable progress in organ transplantation, and in particular, how it constitutes a significant part of the history of organ transplantation.
It is not easy to objectify and attach meaning to an era that was substantially influenced by myths, legends, or religious events. This is because it is easy to fall into the trap of simplifying and passing judgment on the past based on the realities of the present day, without making efforts to understand the unique circumstances and contexts of the past. This is especially the case when the distinction between “religious events” and “medical events” is ambiguous, or when dealing with a social culture where religious influence was paramount. From a broader perspective, the study of St. Cosmas and St. Damian is not concerned with the rights or wrongs of religious myths amid the advancement of medicine and its adherence to science and reason, but with the attempt at a deep and broad understanding of human diseases and human conditions of being prone to such diseases throughout life.


성 코스마스와 성 다미안; 아나그로이; 황금 전설; 「검은 다리의 기적」; 생콤 동업조합; 길드; 이식의학; Saints Cosmas and Damian; Anargyroi; Golden Legend; Confr?rie Saint C?me; Guild; Transplantation medicine
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