The church of S Maria Antiqua was established in the Roman Forum sometime in the 6th century. Originally probably linked to the Palatine hill and its imperial palaces, by the eighth century it was being used by the papacy and over time came to contain a unique collection of frescoes, including many portraits of the popes dating from the middle of the seventh century up until the middle of the ninth century. It is known to have become a diaconate by the eighth century. It was probably partially buried by an earthquake and subsequently largely abandoned in the middle of the ninth century and was only re-exposed in 1900.
Off the main sanctuary of the church lies a small chapel dedicated to medical saints, mostly of eastern origin. The medical Saint that is represented most frequently in the complex is S Cyrus, from Alexandria. The paper will explore the means whereby the cult of this medical saint and his soldier companion, S John, travelled to Rome from Alexandria where Cyril of Alexandria is credited with establishing an incubation site dedicated to them. It will consider the possible role of the monk Sophronius of Jerusalem may have played in the development of the cult. Sophronius compiled the first collection of the miracles of Cyrus and John in the early part of the seventh century. The paper will also consider how the cult might have functioned within the S Maria Antiqua complex.
The paper will also address what a consideration of this cult can tell us about the development of medical saints in Rome and what light their cults throw on medical care in Byzantine Rome.