I’ve said before that while in France this summer I became utterly enamored of obscure saints and their art. So every few days I check out Wikipedia and various other sources to learn about various saints and their feast days.

I’m not Catholic, and so wasn’t raised with the idea of saints. I certainly appreciate the idea of celebrating and remembering those who showed extraordinary faith or did remarkable good works. So I’m not a total heathen.

But what I LOVE in a purely secular way as a student of history, art history and the quirks of human nature are the ancient saints and their weird and wacky stories that have more to do with folklore than theology.

In that august category, I present Saints Cosmas and Damian:

Saints Cosmas and Damian

These two were twin brothers who lived in the 3rd century. They were devout Christians and physicians who refused to accept any payment for their services. Their most famous miracle took place when they were attempting to treat a patient with an ulcerated leg. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), an another patient, an Ethiopian, had recently died. So Cosmas and Damian removed the ulcerated leg and affixed the leg of the Ethiopian to the man, who recovered.

Not only was this a miracle, apparently the idea of a black leg on a white man was irresistable to Medieval artists, and they depicted it repeatedly.

Saints Cosmas and Damian

Alas for Cosmas and Damian, they were persecuted under Emperor Diocletian and ordered under torture to recant. But they stayed true to the faith and so were executed, by crucifixion, stoning, shooting by arrows, and beheading, at which point, presumably, they were most decidedly deceased.

Nevertheless, they are remembered by the faithful and are the patron saints of physicians.

One last painting. Check out the angel holding up the old leg. Case in point of how magnificently weird is Medieval art.

Saints Cosmas and Damian

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"Grant Wood's 'American Gothic'" No American artwork has been parodied more than American Gothic. Zombies, dogs, Beavis and Butthead, the Muppets, Lego figures, and even Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton have taken a turn with the pitchfork. But the painting itself is no joke--American Gothic is as recognizable as the Mona Lisa and The Scream. mental_floss, Jan/Feb 2012.

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