Santa Maria in Cosmedin and the Mouth of Truth ☆☆

The Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth) in the church portico, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome, Italy (Photo by nekotank)
The Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth) in the church portico

It's a shame that so many who stop to see the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth) on the porch don't take the time to go inside the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin itself

Crowds from tour buses do not flock to this lovely medieval church for the 11th century frescoes on the walls of the atmospherically dim interior, nor for the lovely 12th century bell tower, nor for the marvlous particolored cosmatesque pavement that decorate the floors in fabulous mosaic patterns of cut stone.

It's not even the fact that this church contains the flower-crowned skull of St. Valentine himself, a 3rd century Roman bishop of Terni and famed patron saint of lovers the world over. (Most of the rest of Valentine is, believe it or not, in a church in Dublin.)

It's an ancient Roman sewer-covering hanging inside the portico.

The Mouth of Truth

The Bocca della Verità is a heavy stone disc carved in the 4th century B.C. as a grotesque, bearded face with a gaping, dark slot for a mouth.

It got its nickname, the "Mouth of Truth," from the medieval tradition that holds if you stick your hand in its mouth and tell a lie, it'll clamp down on your fingers.

Apparently, a priest once added some sting to this belief by hiding behind the mouth with a scorpion, dispensing justice as he saw fit.

If all that sounds vaguely familiar, it's because Gregory Peck did this in Roman Holiday to impress Audrey Hepburn.

(Film legend holds that, when it came time to film the famous scene, Peck veered from how they'd rehearsed it, tucked his hand up his sleeve, and threw his all into pretending the thing really had bit off his hand, which is why Hepburn's shrieking is genuine.)

Photo gallery
  • The Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth) in the church portico, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Italy (Photo by nekotank)
  • The facade and belltower, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Italy (Photo by Felix Koenig)
  • The Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth) in the church portico, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Italy (Photo by Kent Chen)
  • Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck visit the Mouth of Truth in
  • The nave, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Italy (Photo by Dnalor 01)
  • The Cosmatesque pavement, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Italy (Photo by Palickap)
  • , Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Italy (Photo by sailko)
  • Madonna with Child, Joseph, and an Angel, detail from an Adoration of the Magi, AD, 705-706, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The crypt, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Italy (Photo by Shadowgate)
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How long does Santa Maria in Cosmedin take?

If takes all of 90 seconds to pose for the camera with your hand stuck in the Mouth of Truth—though you may have to wait in line behind a busload of Japanese tourists. However, please do take another 15–20 minutes to pop into the church itself; it's quite evocative and pleasingly medieval inside. The gate closes 10 minutes before the church.

Note: The gate to the portico—and access to the Mouth of Truth—closes 10 minutes before the church.

The Cow Forum

The church sits at the edge of what is affectionately known as the Foro Boario, or Cow Forum—you can't miss the pair of midget ancient temples across the street.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).