Barbers Company Crest
The Barbers' Company

On This Day – 26 September

On this day is held the feast day of saints Cosmas and Damian, patron saints of the Worshipful Company of Barbers. It is celebrated in the Catholic Church calendar on 26 September (27 September in the traditional calendar). Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers born in Arabia, and martyred as Christians in the during the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian (284–305 AD). The brothers dedicated their lives to the healing of the sick, for which they refused any payment.

Their medical practice and the miracles attributed to them after their death naturally led to their adoption as the patron saints not only of the famous Florentine Medici family (‘medici’ being Italian for ‘doctors’), for whom Fra’ Angelico undertook the commission to paint the saints’ martyrdom in the San Marco Altarpiece (1438-40) but also of surgeons, physicians, pharmacists and the medical profession in general.


Cosmas and Damian with the 1492 cognizance of the Guild of Surgeons

By the fourteenth century a specific iconography of Saints Cosmas and Damian had developed in Western Europe, and this can be seen in their representation in two of the Company’s historic artefacts. The brothers would be depicted in contemporary dress with soft headwear, one holding a medication of ointment jar and the other a uroscopy flask or urinal. In 1492 a cognizance was granted to the Surgeons’ Guild (or Fellowship) by Henry VII in recognition of their medical services during his  French military campaigns of that year. In the illustrated title page of the fifteenth century Ordinance Book held by the Worshipful Company of Barbers, the cognizance is flanked by the figures of Cosmas and Damian and they are seen again in the rich decorations of the sixteenth century silver surgical instrument case, believed to have been presented to the Company by Henry VIII.

Further reading:

Wickham, Ann (2002) ‘The Barbers’ Company Instrument Case,’ in Burn, Ian (ed). The Worshipful Company of Barbers Folio 3. London: Barbers’ Historical Society (formerly Barbers’ Historical Group), pp. 84-93.

Harrold, J. (2007) Saintly Doctors: The Early Iconography of SS. Cosmas and Damian in Italy. PhD thesis. University of Warwick. Available at: (Accessed: 23 September 2023).