S. Maria in Cosmedin is a beautiful church in Rome and deserves to be visited on its on merit. However the primary reason why many people visit this church is because of this piece of sculpture
The famous “Bocca della Verita” (Mouth of Truth) sculpture is famed to bite off the hand of any liar who places his/ her hand in its mouth. Hoards of tourists (apparently the bocca featured in the movie – The Roman Holiday and hence its popularity- I wouldn’t know) line up outside the church and wait in line to go stand with their hands inside the mouth while somebody else clicks a picture. And the only way to get out is by going inside the church so needless to say the visitors make their way noisily inside not even properly glancing at the interiors before heading out again.
But this is not a rant about tourists at S Maria in Cosmedin.
This is about the Bocca itself- this sculpture was not made in Roman times to scare people into telling the truth. Far from it- it is thought that the sculpture (and this is a theory that is debated) was nothing more than (hold your breath- and you might have to do it literally too) a manhole cover. Yes, it is thought that this circular sculpture once was a manhole that covered the inlets into the giant Cloaca Maxima- one of the ancient world’s largest sewage system. There are many other theories that this sculpture was at the mouth of a fountain or that it was actually located in a temple. But once you have that image of a manhole cover in your mind it refuses to go away.
I wonder if quite so many people would be keen about popping their hands into a modern manhole cover. Hmmm!