What the “Mouth of Truth” in Rome can tell you

What the “Mouth of Truth” in Rome can tell you

A walk through the “Eternal City” would be incomplete without visiting a perfectly preserved Roman “lie detector” – an antique round marble slab in the shape of a mask. It is known as the “Mouth of Truth” (on the map). You can look at the unusual “polygraph” in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, located in Piazza della Bocca della Verita.
Historians have not yet been able to determine exactly who and when this mask was made. Presumably, the date of its creation is the 1st century AD. At that moment, according to scientists, it either served as a sewer hatch in the Cloaca Maximus, or was a fragment of one of the many Roman fountains.

There is also ongoing debate about the face on the marble slab. In different sources, the prototype of the image is the gods Tiberin, Mercury or Triton. It is now hardly possible to establish who exactly the Romans depicted on this slab. But it is well known that at the moment when the “Mouth of Truth” began to be used as a “lie detector,” local residents were sure that the face belonged to Ercole the Victorious. This is a mythical hero who was famous for his intolerance of liars. According to legends, he could bite off the hand of someone who told a lie without any hesitation.

What the “Mouth of Truth” in Rome can tell you

I want to go to Rome!

Whether the Mouth of Truth served in ancient Roman times as a manhole in a sewer or as part of a fountain, in the Middle Ages they became an important element of legal proceedings.

The procedure for passing this “polygraph” was quite simple: the offender told his version of what happened, after which he put his hand in the mouth of the mask. In some cases, the suspect began to scream, and then took out the bloody stump of a hand, and the hand was “swallowed” by the face…

Historical documents that have survived to this day indicate that behind the mask there was an executioner who mercilessly cut off the hands. True, it is not very clear who exactly made the decision about the truthfulness or falsity of the words of a person who ended up in such a trial.

It is significant that in Rome at that time parents often frightened their children with the “Mouth of Truth” and thus tried to accustom them to an honest and righteous life. The fear of the mask was so great that even on the way to it the criminal confessed his sins.

What the “Mouth of Truth” in Rome can tell you

Temple of Santa Maria in Cosmedin

In the 17th century, the antique slab was moved to the portico of the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, where we can still see it today. At that time, there was a market not far from the church, and very often local merchants who were caught trying to defraud the buyer were brought to the mask. Here the trial of thieves and women suspected of adultery took place.

According to legend, one day a nobleman learned that his wife had a young lover, and he took her to Usta. The woman was about to put her hand into the hole, when suddenly a young man jumped out from the crowd and kissed the lady. From his appearance one could tell that he was simply crazy, and none of those gathered suspected that this was his lover. When a woman was asked if she had been faithful to her husband, her answer was somewhat true. She said: “I only knew the hands of my husband and this madman.” It is unknown whether the head “bit off” her hand, but the legend of the Roman face began to spread throughout Europe. She was even depicted in the painting “The Mouth of Truth” by the artist Lucas Cranach the Elder. On the canvas, a woman put her hand into the mouth of an unusual monster, but other details of the picture make it clear that the author had in mind the famous Roman marble slab.

What the “Mouth of Truth” in Rome can tell you

“Usta” attracted the attention of tourists after 1953, when the film “Roman Holiday” was released. Starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. During the scene near the church, the actor was supposed to simply put his hand into the “Mouth of Truth,” but during the filming process Gregory decided to scare his partner a little and, placing his hand in the mouth of the mask, screamed loudly. He hid the hand in the sleeve of his suit before removing his hand. Apparently, Audrey was particularly impressionable, as she almost lost consciousness. The crew’s staff had to urgently revive her, but the episode was not cut from the film. Moreover, critics recognized it as one of the most natural and “lively” in the entire film.

What the “Mouth of Truth” in Rome can tell you

Photo: anzinitaly.wordpress.com

Today, to look at the “Mouth of Truth” you will have to stand in line. Despite the sign that allows you to take only one photo, the wait time is usually lengthy. After all, every tourist considers it his duty to photograph himself in different poses with his hand in his mouth.

While exploring the church, pay attention to another relic – the skull of St. Valentine. This is the same patron of all lovers, who, according to legend, secretly performed wedding ceremonies, uniting the hearts of young people.

Finding the Mouth of Truth is quite easy. When you arrive in Rome, you need to find the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. It is located between the ruins of the Circus Maximus and the Tiber. The church is open to tourists every day from 09:00 to 18:00, but you should remember about siesta hours: from 13:00 to 15:00 the entrance is closed.

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What the “Mouth of Truth” in Rome can tell you

Author: Roskin Mikhail

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