Twin rivalryThis Basilica is one of the earliest Christian churches in Rome, and is built onto the back of the Temple of Romulus in the Roman Forum. It was dedicated by the Emperor Maxentius to his son Valerius Romulus, who died as a child in 309 AD and was subsequently deified. It was perhaps previously a Temple of Jupiter Stator, the judge and law-maker of the pantheon. In the year 527 AD the temple was donated by the king of the Ostrogoths, Theodoric the Great, to Pope Felix IV. Felix Christianised the temple and dedicated it to twin brother saints Cosma and Damiano (Cosmas and Damian), who were martyred in 3rd or 4th century under the Emperor Diocletian.
One of the reasons Felix chose these twins as patron saints of the church was as a Christian counterpoint to the nearby Roman Temple of Castor and Pollux, the twins who rule the constellation Gemini (the remains of this temple can still be seen in the Forum today). Inside, a spectacular Byzantine-Roman mosaic was added in the apse, portraying the Second Coming of Christ. The church has also housed the remains of Saints Mark and Marcellian since approximately the 9th century.
Saints and doctors
Cosmas and Damian had been proficient doctors, who accepted no payment for their services; they are the patron saints of pharmacists, veterinarians, surgeons and dentists, as well as protectors of children and against the plague. Throughout the centuries the church became a traditional meeting place for physicians to discuss developing medical practices. In 1632 Pope Urban VII had the Basilica restored, and redesigned it with a raised floor to keep the damp out, making the apse appear oversized.
When the Roman Forum was opened up in 1947 the main entrance to the church through the Temple of Romulus was closed: the entrance is now through a convent on the other side, along the Via dei Fori Imperiali. Inside you can enjoy the stunning 6th and 7th century mosaics as well as an impressive Baroque altar, and through a glass wall you can view the interior of the Temple of Romulus, which has been restored to its original ancient Roman specifications; alongside the Pantheon, it is the best preserved pagan temple in Rome.