Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome

The Basilica of St. Mary in Cosmedin was rebuilt in Rome in the 6th Century in the famous Piazza Bocca della Verità.

Enamels, gold and marble tesserae adorn the splendid mosaics in the Romanesque Basilica of St. Mary in Cosmedin in Rome. The flowers, decorated with tiles made of various materials, create patterns of brilliant colours evoking floral embroideries and geometric shapes, in line with the Cosmatesque decorative style of the XII century.

The collection


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Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Roma

In piazza Bocca della Verità, just opposite the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, is the temple of Hercules Invictus. Built in the second century BC, it is considered one of the foundations of architecture of all time and it is the oldest marble building still preserved to date in Rome. Its location in the old forum of Boario, the place appointed for storage and sorting of salt, is not at all coincidental. The temple in fact stands just where the “demigod", hero of the last kings of Rome and protector of trade, herds and salt, would have stood.

Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Roma

In addition to the Mouth of Truth and the extraordinary heritage of floor mosaics, the basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin houses another hidden treasure in its basement: the "Ara Maxima". This is an ancient altar dedicated to Hercules, the first centre of worship to this god built in Rome, which even predates the famous temple of Hercules and which may still be visited in the crypt under the church altar.

Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin

The Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin certainly owes its fame to the legends associated with one of the most visited places in Rome: la Bocca della Verità (the Mouth of Truth); perhaps it is a little less known for its rich heritage of Cosmatesque mosaics. The great marble mask, walled in the portico of the church, was actually a manhole through which rainwater flowed during Roman times, but it is from the Middle Ages that it became known as a "lie-detector" for unfaithful wives.

The art work

The Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, first built in the 6th and then rebuilt in the 8th century for the Byzantine monks living near the Tiber, stands in Rome in Piazza Bocca della Verità. Its name comes from the Greek word kosmidion, that means ornament, due to the beauty of its decorations. The church has undergone restoration and changes several times over the centuries, and contains a wealth of mosaics, a collection that has been defined as one of the best, whole and oldest found in Roman churches. Its floors are embellished with the enamels and gold in the mosaics that date back to the 12th century, created by Magister Paulus, the Roman marble artist who is considered to be the vanguard of the Cosmati school of inlaid art: tiles of marble, granite and ceramics, all cut and laid with intricate detail, forming never-ending geometric combinations in mosaic panels that look similar to each other but are each unique in their design.

Outside, on the other hand, on the right-hand side of the facade, there is a seven-floor bell tower decorated with coloured majolica tiles, a true Romanesque-style jewel. On the left-hand side, the portico is home to the famous Bocca della Verità (the mouth of truth): the marble mask built into the wall that is historically renowned for the widespread belief that it may bite the hand of anyone who tells a lie.