November 14, 2014

Liars & Lovers in Rome

Ever wondered if there were a romantic way to find out if your lover is a liar?

Well, wonder no more!  Just buy a few plane tickets to Rome and march your curious self to the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin for your answer.  This medieval church, constructed in the seventh century, houses an ancient sculpture of a face commonly known as the "Mouth of Truth" in its portico.  At best guess, historians believe the sculpture is a first century drain pipe or manhole cover.  (Bear with me - in this case, drains are very romantic.)  As popularized by Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday, the Mouth of Truth purportedly detects liars by biting off their hand if they're cheeky enough to fib while their hand is jammed down its throat.  I would hazard a guess that maybe the face just doesn't like it when strangers shove their germy fingers in their mouth?  But I digress...

Spoiler alert: he passed the test.
So just coax your sweetheart to put their hand in there, ask them that particular question that's been nagging you since the day you met and soon you'll have your truthful answer - or a one-handed beau.

If you're seeking to continue this romantic venture, take a gander through the interior of the church.  While elaborately ornate back in its day ("Cosmedin" derives from the Greek word for ornate), this small basilica pales in comparison to St. Peter's Basilica, not just in size but in decor.  However, I preferred the geometric mosaics on the floor and the more respectful stillness of the visitors over the mayhem of tourists in the Vatican.  The absence of 15-feet tall cherubs hanging over me was also welcome.

Santa Maria has a distinctly Byzantine feel.  It follows a Melkite Catholic orthodoxy, which in short means their roots and liturgy feel more like Greek Orthodox but they are decidedly pro-Roman Catholic.  If that makes any sense.  At any rate, the church feels older (it is) and more genuine (in my opinion) than the glitz and glam of St. Peter's.

And to get back to the theme of lovers, did you know that Santa Maria in Cosmedin houses the head of St. Valentine?  That's right, the final resting place for the Saint of Love himself (or at least his head) is in this small basilica, although this is disputed as many places claim to have his body (in whole or part).  Dublin likes to think they have it all. 

St. Valentine lived and died in the third century, or so it's generally believed.  The legend of this martyred priest has outgrown any concrete facts, but the general story goes like this:  a Roman emperor decreed that young men and women could not marry because he thought his soldiers would fight better if they were single.  Despite this edict, Valentine performed marriage ceremonies for young people in secret.  When his actions were discovered, he was brutally beaten, tortured, and finally beheaded.  Think on that the next time you're out buying Valentine cards and candy.

Light a candle for the saint, say a prayer to restore your sweetheart's hand (if applicable), and relish this oasis of calm in the midst of Rome's loud hordes - Santa Maria in Cosmedin is a charm not to be missed.

Have you put your hand in the Mouth of Truth and visited Santa Maria in Cosmedin?

Cost:  1 euro suggested donation
Time Needed:  20-40 minutes
Accessibility:  Use Rome's metro line B and alight at the Circo Massimo stop.  Walk 1km northwest on Via del Circo Massimo and the Basilica is located at the northern end of the circus.
Tips:  Modest clothing is required for entry into the church itself, though not for the portico area housing the Bocca della Verita.  Shoulders must be covered and trousers must fall to your knees when in the basilica.  There may be a queue to enter during the high tourist season so make sure you get there in plenty of time before the church closes for the evenings.

Linking up with A Brit and a Southerner for #WeekendWanderlust!


  1. Oh wow this is so cool. What an incredible experience this must be. I love that architecture! I wish you a superb weekend :)

  2. What an interesting and funny post! I have never been to Italy, but Rome is on my bucket list so this post is going on my "Places to Visit" Pinterest board. :)

    Nice photos too!

  3. Haha, I've never heard of that! Seems legit, though... ;)

  4. The Mouth of Truth was my son's ultimate goal for Rome when he visited there with my parents this September ;)


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