Wondrous Cures in Constantinople

Processional Cross, Late 10th–11th century. Copper Alloy. Athens, Benaki Museum.

The shrines that created the glory of Constantinople through their lavish beauty were also repositories of precious relics and thus sources of healing. Early on, the city was placed under the protection of the Virgin, who sanctified the waters of numerous springs there. In addition to such all-encompassing healing places as the shrine of the physician saints Kosmas and Damian near Eyüp, there were also specialized shrines, like St. Artemios, for curing male diseases, and St. Anastasia, for mental illness. 

Church of the Zoodochos Pege in Constantinople with the Sick Lying on a Mattress. London, 19th century. Steel Engraving, Private Collection.

Fear of pain, the surgical knife, hemorrhage, and infection led many among the faithful to turn to the saints, whose healing interventions were painless, immediate, and free of charge. Expressions of thanksgiving after miraculous cures contributed to shrines’ wealth and fame. Oftentimes, the imperial couple influenced devotional practices at healing shrines, as did Leo VI and Zoe, whose son Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (b. 905) was born after the intervention of the Virgin of Pege. 

- Brigitte Pitarakis, curator of Life Is Short, Art Long

Demons, Symbols, and the Cosmos

Demons, Symbols, and the Cosmos

Beliefs surrounding illness and healing in Byzantium stem from the myths, astrology, and magic practiced around the Mediterranean by Jews, Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and Greeks.

Rational Medicine in Byzantium

Rational Medicine in Byzantium

Byzantine medical art was grounded in the Greco-Roman medicine transmitted by Hippocrates and Galen and new concepts introduced by such physicians as Oribasios of Pergamon, Aetius of Amida, Alexander of Tralles and Paul of Aegina. 

Serpent Head

Serpent Head

The Greek god Apollo and his son Asklepios presided over the realm of medicine and healing. Apollo was also the god of light and sun, whose solar symbolism and association with medicine would become linked to Christ the Physician, and the resurrected.