The Sanctuary of the Saints Cosmas and Damian, located in Bitonto (Piazza XXV Maggio 1734), was built in 1960, whereas its statues were moved from the ancient Church of Saint George on March 1963. The big building, that is able to contain lots of pilgrims, was projected by Antonio Scivittaro. The Sanctuary became Basilica in 1975, thanks to Pope Paul VI. In the front of the church there are three bronze doors, made by Adolfo Rollo. The central one, made up of six pannels, shows pilgrims thanking the saints and their martyrdom. The saints' glory is exalted on the top of the entrance door.1
The Basilica has a latin cross plan, which consists in a single nave closed by a big apse. In the middle of the apse there is a big red granite throne, which contains a crystal structure where the wooden statues of the saints are located. The white altar, manufactured in Carrara, creates a contrast of colors with the floor.2
The story of the statues is less known: some people think that they were made by the humble worker Vincenzo Amenunno while, according to others, they were commissioned by a priest to the best Neapolitan wood carver Giacomo Colombo.3 The saints hold the gold palm of martyrdom and a chest full of medicines in their hands. Cosmas is red dressed (which is a symbol of divinity), while Damian wears a green tunic (which is a symbol of humanity). Their necklaces contain some fragments of their bones.4
In the middle of the altar base, there is a recess that contains a precious silver and gold reliquary, dating back to 1550. This reliquary contains some pieces of the saints' arm bones. The origin of these relics is not clear. They could have been moved in Bitonto from Rome, where another famous basilica dedicated to the saints is located, but they could also have been moved from Canosa in the IX Century after a big war against Saracens.5
The biggest painted window is located in the front of the building. It represents the glory of Cosmas and Damian, surrounded by angels. Under the saints' figures there is a crowd of people praying, asking for miracles. One of the men is Aurelio Marena, the bishop that wanted the church to be built.
In the left edge of the window there are some handicapped (a blind man, a crippled man and a paralytic man) guided from a doctor towards the Basilica.6
The windows of the apse were realized by Umberto Colonna. They show the most important virtues of the holy doctors.7 They're six in total:
- the first one is FAITH, symbolized with a cross. The motto is: "They always kept faith with their work";
- the second one shows HOPE that "holds up souls" and never let the saints throw away their martyrdom;
- the third is MEDICINE, chosen by the saints to help and cure sick people. In the top of the window a casket with scissors and scalpel can be seen. In the middle of the image the medicine is personified by a woman that holds a caduceus and a box of medicines. The sentence reminds us that: "They cured sick people more with prayer than with medicine";
- the fourth reminds us of the MARTYRDOM, symbolized with a palm and the sword used to kill them. The inscription says: "As Christ's athletes they won with martyrdom";
- the fifth window shows CHARITY because Cosmas and Damian always helped people and "They strongly defeated Christ's enemies with love";
- the last one is a celebration of the saints' DISINTEREST: they helped to free surgeons, physicians and chemists and, as the woman portrayed, kept money away ("They believed that money was deplorable mud").
The Sanctuary is famous because it has a rich collection of "ex-voto". There are paintings, precious objects and silver anatomical reproduction of the part of body cured by Saints through miracles.
- Photos by Rossella Giordano ti.oohay|39onadroig.allessor#| (December 2013), courtesy of Fondazione "Opera Santi Medici Cosma e Damiano - Bitonto - Onlus"
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- G.Cannito, I Santi medici Cosma e Damiano. La storia i miracoli la medicina. "Arte e devozione in Bitonto", Edizioni "Raffaello", Bitonto 2003.
- S.Milillo, Il Santuario dei Santi Medici a Bitonto "Clinica del corpo e dello spirito", Edizioni Fondazione, ED INSIEME, Terlizzi 2001.
- D.Vacca, Leggendo la vita dei Santi Medici Cosma e Damiano, Arti Grafiche Favia, Bari 1982.