Santa Maria in Cosmedin
I’ve been by this chiesa many times while riding the bus, but didn’t realize which church it actually was (like many Rome sites, there is little to no signage). It’s kind of unasumming from the outside. There’s always a long line of people snaked around waiting to get in. I wondered what’s so special about this place?
There was a transportation strike yesterday in Roma and determined to be getting more exercise each day, I ventured out on foot to uncover the mystery.
I had thought Santa Maria in Cosmedin was in Trastervere, but in fact it’s located in the southern part of the City Center, on the east side of the Tiber River. The Frommer’s Italy 2012 guide that I have on my Kindle doesn’t even mention the church. It was originally built in the 8th century, over the remains of an ancient Roman food distribution center, and was used at that time as a Greek church. Over the years, it was destroyed and rebuilt several times, having been substantially restored in the 1200’s and the 1800’s. Today it retains it’s medieval style.
Once I reached the church I joined the line. While waiting in line, I used my iPhone to look up the church online and discovered what all the hullabaloo is about.
The church is a popular tourist site due to the fact that on the left side of the entrance under the portico there is a large disk that was originally used by the ancient Romans as a drain cover. It’s called the Bocca della Verita or the “Mouth of Truth”. It’s a weather beaten stone face of the sea god Oceanus.
The disc was made famous in the movie Roman Holiday when Gregory Peck demonstrated to Audrey Hepburn the legend that when you put your hand into the mouth of Oceanus, it will bite the hand of a liar. Local legend has it that a priest used to keep a scorpion in back to bite the fingers of anyone HE felt was lying. The disc may also have been used in the past to collect donations which were placed through the open mouth of Oceanus.
And so today, it is a popular photo op and the reason for the long line in order to have one’s picture taken with your hand in the “Mouth of Truth”.