The Mouth of Truth is the most famous attraction of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, a basilica in Rome. A face carved in marble, most likely that of the pagan god Oceanus, was made famous in the film Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.
The myth of the Mouth of Truth began in the medieval times. The Romans would test a person they believed to be lying or committing adultery by bringing them to the marble face. They were told to tell the truth and then put their hand into the mouth. If the person were lying, the hand would have been taken off.
Some say it was also used during the Middle Ages as a trial by ordeal. They would place an executioner behind the large stone face with a sharp sword ready to cut off the hand.
Some people also say a rich wife of a Roman noble was accused of adultery. The wife denied the accusations, however the husband demanded that she place her hand inside the stone mouth. The wife knew perfectly well that she was guilty came up with a strategy. A large group of bystanders who had gathered around the “Mouth of Truth”, witnessed a man who was actually her lover ran up to her and kissed her. The wife played along saying she didn’t know the madman and the people in the crowd chased him away. When she place her hand into the mouth, the woman said that she had never kissed any other man apart from her husband and the madman who had just kissed her. Therefore she wasn’t lying and her hand was saved. The betrayed husband saved her honor, but the “Mouth of Truth” upset by the trickery hasn’t worked since that incident.
Some historians believe the round sculpture was either used as manhole cover or part of another fountain that was then taken apart. Another theory is it was used as a drain cover in the nearby Temple of Hercules that had an open space in the middle of the roof just as the Pantheon has today.
It’s a massive marble stone with the dimensions of 1,75 m x 1,75 m x 19 cm and which weighs around 1300 Kg. Carved in the 4th century B.C.
Just a stone throw away from the “Mouth of Truth” you can see the Arch of Janus, the Temple of Hercules Olivarius, the Fountain of the Tritons and the Temple of Portunus.
The Mouth of Truth Rome lies inside the portico of the stunning Paleochristian church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin since the 13th century, later in the 17th century the disc was moved to its current location. The church is renowned for its beautiful Cosmatesque artwork and it’s unique bell tower. The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and was originally looked after by Greek monks.