This Byzantine church set near the banks of the Tiber charms with decorative elements including a pre-Roman crypt and Cosmatesque marble floors and altar. The Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin (Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin) is best known as home to the Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verità), located beneath its front portico.The Basics
While you may start at Bocca della Verità, go beyond the carved marble mask to discover the medieval church. The original eighth-century structure was built on the site of the great temple of Hercules, though some of its architecture was lost in renovations. Look up to see the tallest medieval bell tower in Rome, home to what many believe is the skull of Saint Valentine.
See Santa Maria di Cosmedin on a tour dedicated to exploring Catholic Rome, or as part of a walking, bike, Vespa, or vintage car tour of Rome's top attractions. Or, combine a visit with skip-the-line tickets for the nearby Colosseum and Vatican Museums.Things to Know Before You Go
How to Get There
- You can view the mask from outside the church gates, but to take a picture with your hand in the Mouth of Truth, you have to wait in line to access the enclosed portico.
- If you are planning to tour the church interiors, wear modest clothing covering shoulders and knees.
- The Bocca della Verità is a fun stop for kids, and the church itself fascinating for history and architecture enthusiasts.
- The church portico and interiors are accessible to wheelchair users.
The Chiesa di Santa Maria in Cosmedin is along the Tiber River just across the Ponte Palatino bridge from the Trastevere neighborhood. A number of city buses from the Termini train station and across the city stop nearby.
When to Get There
The marble mask is only accessible when the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin is open. Get there first thing in the morning when the portico opens to avoid the long lines that form later in the day.
The Legend of the Bocca della Verità
According to legend, Bocca della Verità (likely a first-century drain cover from nearby Temple of Hercules Victor) will bite off the hand of anyone who tells a lie when their hand is inserted into the mask’s gaping mouth. Audiences were charmed by Audrey Hepburn’s reaction when Gregory Peck feigned having his hand devoured in The Roman Holiday
, and today visitors line up in droves to put the mask to the test.