Today we are in Rome, in Piazza della Bocca della Verità, under the portico of the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, in front of the famous stone mask that shares its name with the square.
The Bocca della Verità is a marble mask, built into a church wall in 1632. The sculpture which represents a bearded male face with piercing eyes, nose and mouth, has a diameter of 1.75 m and weighs about 1300 kg. It can be dated back to around the first century.
But what is it about this big mask which is almost two meters tall? Its origins seem quite clear: it was a manhole of ancient Rome.
Just like the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, and St. Peter's Basilica, the Bocca della Verità is one of the most famous symbols of Rome. In this case, however, it is not the work of art that enters the scene, but man's imagination: its well-known, in fact, due to the many tales that accompany its history and that continue to be handed down from generation to generation.
Tales regarding the "Mouth of Truth"
The most famous of these tales says that the "Bocca" has the ability to unmask liars: if a lie is told while positioning your hand in the mouth of the mask, it magically bites down, cutting off the hand of the alleged liar. This legend has sparked the imagination of many tourists over the years, who stand on very long lines in the Capital, even if only to take a picture.
It is also said that a rich wife of a Roman patrician - after being accused of adultery - was put to the test by her husband who had her put her hand in the stone mouth. But the woman, knowing that she had to lie, resorted to a cunning trick. In front of the intrusive crowd that had gathered in front of the Bocca della Verità, her lover embraced her and kissed her.
She pretended not to know him, and, mistaking him for a madman, the crowd immediately dismissed him. She then declared that she had never kissed another – other than her husband and the poor madman who had just assaulted her in front of the population. In this way the woman was sure she had not lied and saved her hand. The betrayed husband saved his honor, but the Bocca della Verità lost its credibility and since then it no longer considered to be a just judge.
The moral is clear to everyone: a woman does not get stuck in any situation, even with magic.
La Bocca della Verità in the film, “Vacanze Romane”
The name "Bocca della Verità" appears for the first time in 1485, and from that moment the sculpture is constantly mentioned in Roman tourist guides. It was the film "Vacanze Romane" that made it unforgettable in the hearts of everyone in 1953; a sequence of the film starring the memorable Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck takes place right in front of the Bocca della Verità.
“Along the streets of Rome which are vast and tight,
one could never find something so rare.
A face made of stone which teaches you
who told, and didn't tell a lie.”