Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin and the Saint Valentine’s Skull

Many will remember this place for the famous Bocca della Verità which is located in the portico. Once you enter here you will be amazed by the beautiful mosaics but it is not the only particular thing you can see in this church in Rome.

Here is also the skull of St. Valentine. The best day to see it more closely is obviously February 14, when the skull is paraded through the church to celebrate the feast of the saint and lovers.

The basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin is a place of Catholic worship in Rome, located in Piazza della Bocca della Verità, in the Ripa district; officiated by the Greek-Melchite Catholic Church, it has the dignity of a minor basilica and on it the eponymous diaconia stands.

The basilica, the result of the enlargement under Pope Hadrian I (772-790) of a previous place of Christian worship attested since the sixth century, was the subject of an important reconstruction in 1123 and is currently one of the rare examples of sacred architecture of the twelfth century in Rome; It is known for the presence in the narthex of the Bocca della Verità.




Ancient age

The site on which stands the basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, in Roman times was located at the southeastern edge of the Forum Boario, next to the river Tiber and the Circus Maximus. In this area was found the highest altar of Hercules, built according to tradition by Evander after Hercules had killed the giant Caco, and which assumed its final shape with a reconstruction in the second century BC.

In the middle of the 4th century AD it was built immediately west of the maximum altar and adjacent to it a porticoed hall, placed on a podium and bounded by arches resting on columns; it was most likely lacking coverage as it would have been very expensive due to the considerable height of the walls (18 meters), and subject to the fires that could have set fire to the sacrifices of the adjacent sanctuary; according to other studies, however, the presence of stuccoes inside would have necessarily required the presence of a roof.

The building, traditionally and mistakenly mistaken for the Statio Annonae (where Annona’s offices and stores were located), which instead stood further south, probably contained relics of Hercules or was nevertheless used for its cult.



Deaconry and the Christian church

The presence of a deaconry in the area is attested since the sixth century, although the first explicit written testimony goes back to the papacy of Pope Hadrian I (772-790). The arcade hall remained in use until the 6th century, thanks also to the activities of the Forum Boario and the proximity to the Circus Maximus; subsequently inside it a Christian community was established, which built a primitive place of worship exploiting the pre-existing structure (it would therefore be the first case of Christianization of a pagan place of worship in the city of Rome).

In ancient times it was believed that the first place of worship on that site had been founded by Pope Dionysius (259-268).

The name of the deaconry was that of Santa Maria in Schola graeca, due to the large presence in that area of ​​a Greek community initially constituted mainly by officials (the area itself had therefore been called Ripa Greca); the church consisted of a classroom on which there were lateral rooms (or between them independent, or two naves), on which they probably found place of matronians that overlooked the central nave with six arched windows on each side. environment ended to the east with the wall of the loggia, which is why the presence of an apse is to be excluded.

Three cardinals deacons of Santa Maria in Cosmedin were elected to the papal throne: Pope Gelasius II in 1118, Pope Celestine III in 1191 and also the antipope Benedict XIII in 1394.



The medieval era

Pope Adrian I, wishing to expand the church to the east, in 782 had the wall of the arcaded hall demolished, so as to be able to exploit the basement in blocks of tufa behind Max Ara inside which he dug a crypt. The whole structure doubled its length; the internal space was subdivided into three naves with matroneis, each of them ending with a semicircular apse.

The church and its annexes were entrusted to a colony of Greek monks who had taken refuge in Rome to escape the iconoclastic persecutions of Constantine V; from these the church took the name of Santa Maria in Schola Greca, and later became known as Santa Maria in Cosmedin, from the Greek word kosmidion (ornament), a typical Byzantine name found in various churches in Constantinople and, in Italy, also in Naples and Ravenna (name with which the baptistery of the Arians was called from the 8th century).

During the papacy of Pope Nicholas I (858-867), a sacristy was added to the church, the later oratory of San Niccolò de Schola Graeca and the diaconal residence.

During the sack of Rome in 1084 by the Norman troops of Roberto il Guiscardo, the church refused heavy damages; it was Pope Gelasius II (who had previously been cardinal deacon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin) to order that restoration work be carried out in 1118.



The facade after the restoration of Cardinal Francesco Caetani

Important changes were made in the early years of the pontificate of Pope Callistus II by his chamberlain Alfano, who later found burial in the church itself: the narthex and the bell tower were built by the Cosmati, the matroneo was demolished and the interior was adorned with a cycle of frescoes with vetero and new testamentary themes. On May 6 of the same year the high altar was consecrated by the Pope.

As part of the same work, the schola cantorum was probably created (perhaps imitating that of the Basilica of San Clemente al Laterano, dating back to 1118) with a pergula, completed between the 13th and 14th centuries with the realization of the candelabra of the Easter candle; a ciborium was also built, with a rectangular plan, perhaps similar to that of San Lorenzo outside the walls or more probably to that of San Clemente.

In 1249 Deodato di Cosma created the Gothic ciborium. Between 1295 and 1304 the entire complex was the subject of a restoration project at the behest of cardinal deacon Francesco Caetani; he, among other things, gave the upper part of the façade a “shelled” shape (similar to the façades of the Roman basilicas of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Santa Maria in Trastevere and San Lorenzo outside the walls, with a flat arched curve towards the outside. ) and opened a rosette in the center, above which he placed his coat of arms, but without adorning the wall with mosaics.

In 1435 the basilica was entrusted by Pope Eugene IV to the Benedictine monks of the abbey of San Paolo fuori le mura, belonging to the Cassinese Congregation, who suppressed the cardinal title to avoid conflicts between the cardinal deacon and the monks; the deaconry was restored in 1513 by Leo X who closed the monastery and raised the church to a collegiate church, with its own chapter. With Pope Pius V it became a parish seat. In 1535 the cardinal deacon Guido Ascanio Sforza of Santa Fiora had the facade of the church painted, in the middle of which there was a circular rose window.



Baroque restorations

Between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the church was the subject of a series of restorations in baroque forms, without however that the Romanesque structure underwent modifications. The first was carried out in 1671 thanks to the funding of the deacon cardinal Leopoldo de ‘Medici; the following year the Vatican Chapter crowned the ancient image of the Madonna with the Child venerated in the basilica and then placed at the center of the apse, considered miraculous.

An object of particular devotion also by various popes such as Pius IX, was crowned again on 10 June 1920. In 1684 were built barrel vaults for internal coverage of the three naves at the behest of the canon Ciatti which, among other things, he also occupied the adornment of the altar of the right apse with a wooden tabernacle attributed to Michelangelo Buonarroti (lost).

In 1716 the floor was restored; the following year, after having obtained in 1715 the authorization of the chapter to open the crypt (closed for two centuries), the canon Giovan Mario Crescimbeni had the environment restored in order to preserve the numerous relics of the basilica, building a second access stairway mirroring that already existing and opening a grating in the ceiling; in the apse a baroque altar was built, on which was placed a table with painted the Nativity of Jesus that previously belonged to Santa Maria Maddalena de ‘Pazzi.

In the same year the columns of the church were also restored by making the capitals different from one another using stucco applications. In that same period the apse was covered with a stucco vestment, and in the center a shrine was built to welcome the Madonna, with entablature supported by Ionic pilasters; on the sides were opened two cupboards in the form of rectangular windows, closed with glass, suitable for the custody and exposure of the relics.

In 1718, Cardinal Annibale Albani commissioned Giuseppe Sardi to create a rococo style façade, reusing the existing structure; the works began on May 5 of the same year and, conducted with extreme speed, ended after just over a month, on June 26th. The new façade restored the two median side arches of the narthex and the opening of a single large arched window in the middle of the upper wall, as well as the creation of a rich stucco decoration. A clock with a painted dial was installed on the western façade of the bell tower.

In 1762 the three rooms placed above the narthex and subdivided by thin partitions, were re-adapted to a choir and found, starting from 1830, a pipe organ donated by the cardinal deacon Antonio Maria Frosini. In the winter choir there was a second instrument of modest dimensions, and both were restored by the organist Francesco Pasquetti in 1844 and 1854.

Further interventions were carried out throughout the nineteenth century mainly aimed at adapting the appearance of the building to the aesthetic taste of the time and increasing its brightness, drastically reduced by the dressing of new buildings to the aisles and the closure of eighteen of the twenty-four single-light windows that gave light to the central nave to allow the construction of the seventeenth-century barrel vault.

The cosmate paving also underwent heavy changes, with the shortening of the area of ​​the schola cantorum, already deprived of the fence barriers; between 1829 and 1831 the walls of the main nave were covered with empire-style paintings.



Restoration of 1896-1899

The restoration of 1896-1899 was the result of the new romantic interest for medieval art: it was conducted on behalf of the Ministry of Education by a commission nominated by the artistic association among the architects of architecture to the direction of which was placed architect Giovanni Battista Giovenale (who in fact personally led the work) and was designed to restore the basilica to the status of the twelfth century, as a rare example of sacred architecture of this period in the city of Rome, eliminating all subsequent superficies, in particular the baroque ones.

The project was presented at the Turin Architecture Exposition of 1893, where it was awarded for the great philological rigor becoming paradigmatic for similar subsequent interventions; however, the architect was later accused of using funds destined for other monuments and having inappropriately reused the marble elements of the Roman period from the Roman Forum and the Colosseum.

The works, strongly desired by Cardinal Gaetano de Ruggiero, began in 1896 and ended in 1899; on 29 October of that same year the cardinal vicar Lucido Maria Parocchi reconsecrated the church and the high altar.

Externally, the façade in rococo style by Giuseppe Sardi was demolished with the restoration of the masonry wall in bricks, the opening of all seven arches of the narthex and the reconstruction of the upper part of the façade.

The reopening of all the arches was planned of the bell tower, carried out with the necessary reinforcement of the structures and the removal of the clock at a later time.

Inside, the wooden balcony of the choir and the pipe organ were demolished, and the barrel vaulted ceiling was replaced with a wooden false ceiling painted with stars (then removed), so as to allow the opening of all the single and single windows. the vision of the twelfth century frescoes. The Empire-style paintings on the walls and the stuccoes of the apses were also removed.

The schola cantorum regained its original dimensions and was delimited with new barriers made in 1897 by Paolo Bottoni.

The pergula (by Ettore and Giacomo Poscetti) was also rebuilt almost exclusively with modern materials with the exception of four ancient plutei made during the restoration of Alfano, with mosaic decorations similar to those of the Ferentino concathedral (signed by Opifex magnus nomine Paulus and dating back to the pontificate of Pasquale II), also extended to the lateral naves as originally. Even the crypt was stripped of the baroque superficies.

The apses were decorated, in 1899, with frescoes in the neo-medieval style of Cesare Caroselli and Alessandro Palombi, deducing the style from those of the twelfth century of the central nave. The floor was also restored by Eugenio Mattia.

Between 1961 and 1962 the bell tower and the roof of the central nave were restored.





The facade and the bell tower

The facade of the church faces west and overlooks Piazza della Bocca della Verità; it is salient, recalling the internal structure with three naves.

The entrance is preceded by the narthex, the work of the Cosmati, characterized by the use of round arches (each of them surmounted by a single window) resting on cruciform pillars in place of the continuous architrave resting on columns.

The central arch is underlined by a porch supported by two granite columns (a common element in the panorama of the religious architecture of medieval Rome, also found above the main entrances of the Basilica of San Clemente al Laterano, that of Santa Prassede and of the church of San Cosimato).

Below the narthex, near the northern head, there is the Bocca della Verità, a Roman mask in pavonazzetto marble placed there in 1623.

In the façade of the church some inscriptions are walled, one related to the reconstruction of the church under Hadrian I, another of the tenth century with the list of gifts made by Teubaldo to the martyr Valentino and another, of the seventh century, bearing the donation made from Eustazio and Giorgio to the diaconia of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, located to the left of the median portal.

Between the latter and the portal on the right is the funerary monument of Alfano, surmounted by a marble tympanum with an inscription on the lintel resting on two columns, which frames a niche with the remains of a fresco depicting the Madonna of Clemency between two pontiffs.

The main portal presents a marble frame by Giovanni da Venezia (eleventh century), richly decorated with reliefs derived from Roman art.

To the left of this, symmetrically to the burial of Alfano, there was a second arcosolio with a barely legible fresco depicting the Annunciation (on the left) and the Nativity of Jesus (on the right).

In the upper part of the façade, the result of the restoration of the late nineteenth century and corresponding to the central nave, there are three single windows flanked and, in the triangular tympanum crowned with a cornice supported by small marble brackets, a circular oculus.

To the right of the central nave stands the bell tower, built in the twelfth century; it is divided by cornices with marble brackets in seven orders, of which the four upper ones open outwards on each side with a trifora resting on columns. Among the bells housed inside, the oldest dates back to 1283 and is of Pisan manufacture. At its summit, the bell tower reaches 34.20 meters in height.



Mouth of Truth

Every day a long line of tourists set out from the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin to photograph themselves while putting their hand in the mouth of the large pavonazzetto marble medallion that is now in the atrium, more commonly known as La Bocca della Verità.

The great round of the imperial era of almost 2 meters in diameter, at the time was used as a manhole of a cloaca. Some think it is a manhole, others, given the size, the cover of a well. It has the features of a faun inspired by a river divinity, the God Portuno, to whom a temple was probably dedicated near the same cloaca.

The Romans and tourists associated the medallion with the property of decreeing Truth.

In particular, in ancient times, the stone was asked to pronounce on conjugal infidelity, especially if a woman had failed her husband. The wife was forced to put her hand into the slit of the tondo and to interrogate the stone about her matrimonial fidelity. The Mouth of Truth, through a trivial “human” trick, – one or more employees, hired by the patrician on duty, were positioned behind the marble slab – had the task of pricking a wife’s hand with a pin or scissors unfaithful (perhaps).



Among all the legends, one is the one that best remembered for its particularity, or the story of a witty wife who had the opportunity to take his revenge thanks to the Mouth of Truth. Legend has it that the woman had been surprised by the neighbors to receive continuous visits from a lover while her husband was out of town. They confessed him to the husband who in turn asked for explanations to his wife. Despite the woman’s tears, the man decided to ask for proof of the truth in public.

That day it happened that a young man made his way through the crowd, approached his wife, hugged her tightly and kissed her on the mouth, leaving everyone bewildered. Finally, he walked away shouting meaningless words and hopping like crazy. Immediately he was taken away by force from the crowd. Once the calm returned, the woman was brought close to the medallion, put her hand in the puncture and said these words: I swear that no man has ever hugged and kissed me, except for my husband and that young madman!

The mouth did not close and did not puncture the woman’s hand, so the husband was forced to change his mind and the crowd burst into shouts of joy. But how was it possible? Well, the pretty shrewd woman had come up with an infallible plan together with her lover to fool everyone: he would have pretended to be mad, would have kissed her in front of everyone so that whoever would have been witnesses, she would have admitted that she had been kissed by both the men and the Mouth of Truth could only have been right.

The test was so far over, the woman thanks to her cunning had managed to cheat the Mouth of Truth and was able to continue to attend her lover, now certain that no voice would convince her husband on his betrayal.





The interior of the basilica has three naves, each of which ends with a semicircular apse, without transept; the ceiling is wooden trusses.

The aisles are separated by three groups of four round arches interspersed with quadrangular pillars and resting on marble columns of bare, with Corinthian capitals, eighteen in total of which eleven of the Roman era and the remaining fruit of the restoration of Pope Gelasius II.

The counter-façade wall of the main nave is characterized by three arches, of which the two side curtains and the central one that, above the portal, opens on the choir above the narthex, and houses a sarcophagus of the III-IV century, found at the base of the bell tower in 1964.

The arches, like the columns that support them, were part of the porticoed hall of the IV century BC. within which the Christian basilica was built; other arches are inserted in the counter-façade of the left aisle and in the perimeter wall of the latter.

In the minor aisles, above the separating arches with the main nave, there are six single-light windows on each side, with which the matronet of Hadrian I was opened on the church, demolished under Callistus II.

The floor presents a rich decoration in cosmatesque style made of polychrome marble with mosaic inserts; the paving of the schola cantorum and of the presbytery presents elements in opus sectile of the VIII century.



Frescoes in the central nave

In the upper part of the walls of the central aisle there are the remains of the fresco painting cycle realized in 1123 and characterized by a strongly classicist style, with the recovery of the insertion of the various scenes within squares and architectures.

The narration developed on two orders, of which only the upper one is kept, at the height of the windows, on the ancient testamentary theme: the right wall presents five of the original twelve episodes taken from the Book of Daniel, the left one from the Book of Ezekiel (already erroneously interpreted as salient events in the life of Charlemagne).

The following scenes have been identified of the first theme (the numbering of the windows is from the apse): the Dream of the statue (between the fourth and the fifth window), the Exaltation of Daniel (between the fifth and the sixth), the Slaughter of the sages of Babylon (between the sixth and the seventh), the Adoration of the statue of Nebuchadnezzar (between the seventh and the eighth), the Fiery Furnace (between the eighth and the ninth) and the Threats of Nebuchadnezzar ( between the tenth and the eleventh), as well as the standing figure of the prophet, whose lower part is no longer visible, depicted as a young beardless man holding an open book and wearing a white toga.



Frescoes on the left wall

Of the theme linked to the prophet Ezekiel there are only three scenes clearly attributable to the biblical narration: Ezekiel shaving his beard and weighing it (between the seventh and eighth windows), Ezekiel receiving the book (the prophet is characterized by being genuflected and curved, unlike the upright posture that is ordained by God in the Bible); God enthroned escorted by cherubs (between the eleventh and twelfth windows, with the enthroned figure that would seem to be the Son rather than the Father).

According to the incorrect reading of the cycle as related to episodes of the life of Charlemagne, the following scenes would have been identified: the Crowning of Charlemagne (between the first and the second window), the Massacre of Verden (between the second and the third), Charlemagne receiving the ambassadors of Pope Adrian I (between the third and the fourth), the Vocation of Charlemagne (between the fourth and the fifth), the Walls of Pamplona (between the fifth and the sixth), the Destruction of the idol of Muhammad (between the sixth and seventh, episode present in the Pseudo-Turpin), the Virtues of Charlemagne (between the seventh and the eighth), Charlemagne receives the gifts of Hārūn al-Rashīd (between ‘eighth and ninth), the defeat of the Lombards (between the ninth and the tenth, whose subject is only hypothesized as the fresco has been completely lost), the Death of Charlemagne (between the ninth and the tenth), the Last Judgment of Charlemagne (between the eleventh and twelfth) and, probably, the autoritr act of the painter.

In the lower part, almost completely lost, were depicted evangelical episodes, of which the following are recognizable: on the left wall the Marriage of Mary and Joseph (under the twelfth window), the Census of Quirinius (between the tenth and ‘eleventh window), the Magi talking to Herod (between the ninth and the tenth window), the Presentation of Jesus to the Temple (between the eighth and the ninth window) and the Visitation (between the seventh and the eighth window) ; on the right wall the Healing of the leper (between the tenth and the eleventh window), the Healing of the paralytic (under the ninth window) and the Entrance to Jerusalem (between the seventh and the eighth window).

The fresco above the arch of the apse is still visible, with the Christ blessing in the center inside a medallion (almost completely lost) and on the sides the angelic Sests.



Side chapels

Along the minor aisles there are some side chapels. The only one that opens on the right side is the winter choir, separated from the basilica by a vestibule; it was built in 1686 on a project by Tommaso Mattei for the celebrations of the chapter.

In the back wall of the chapel opens a quadrangular apse inside which is the altar, surmounted by a painting of the Madonna with Child, already in the apse and twice crowned (in 1672 and 1920) being considered miraculous .

The table dates back to the fourteenth century and in the past it was wrongly identified with that which according to tradition would have been saved from iconoclastic destruction by Greek monks in the eighth century; it has been repeatedly retouched, also by the workshop of Antoniazzo Romano, between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The first chapel in the left aisle is the baptistery, built in 1727; inside there is the baptismal font, consisting of an erratic Roman artefacts decorated in relief with vine shoots and ivy, donated to fulfill this function by Pope Benedict XIII.

The chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist de ‘Rossi follows, which was a canon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin and dwelt in the adjoining building; designed by the architect Luca Carimini (1860), the rococo style altar contained therein is pre-existent, as it was consecrated by Benedetto XIII (originally it was in the left aisle and was dedicated to the Madonna delle Grazie).

The third chapel is that of the Crucifix, designed by Giovanni Battista Giovenale.



Schola cantorum, presbytery and apses

The schola cantorum occupies the second half of the main nave; the result of the restoration of the twelfth century, it was recomposed within those of 1896-1899 by integrating the lost elements with other new ones in style.

Bordered by marble hurdles, on its sides there are two ambos: on the left the one of the epistle, of the garden type, in pavonazzetto marble with a base in Greek marble; on the right the one of the Gospel, of the loggia type, mainly in pavonazzetto with inserts in breccia of the Pyrenees (in the middle of the front part) and gray parfido (on the back); in the complex of the latter is placed the candelabrum of the Easter candle (of the XIII-XIV century), at the base of which is the sculpture of a crouched lion, attributable to Pasquale Romano who in 1285 had created and signed a sphinx for the church viterbe of Santa Maria a Gradi.

The presbytery is separated from the schola cantorum by the marble pergula, with architrave supported by columns resting on decorated mosaic barriers, which also continues in the side aisles.

The main altar consists of a marble table resting on a red granite basin; it was consecrated on 6 May 1123 by Pope Callistus II who placed inside the relics of Saints Cirilla, Ilario and Coronato.

Above it there is the Gothic ciborium, the work of Deodato di Cosma (1294), influenced by that of the Basilica of St. Paul outside the walls which in turn blends the cosmatesque tradition with the new Gothic influences of French origin; it is made of marble, resting on four Corinthian columns (perhaps belonging to the previous ciborium), in correspondence of each of which rises a pinnacle (one fifth, higher, is placed on the top of the roof).

The plumes of the front are adorned with a mosaic on a gold background depicting the Annunciation, which recalls those of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, by Pietro Cavallini.

At the center of the apse wall, beneath the mullioned window, there is the marble desk, from the XIII century, whose armrests are adorned in the lower part by two lion heads.



The mosaic of the Annunciation and the frescoes of the apse

The three apses, each of which opens outwards with a mullioned window, are facing east.

Inside, they are entirely decorated with frescoes in the neo-medieval style made in 1899; the cycle of the right chapel is dedicated to the Madonna, with the Madonna and Child within an almond between two angels in the basin and on the sides of the mullioned window on the left the Nativity of Mary, on the right the Dormitio Virginis; the cycle of the right chapel is dedicated to St. John the Baptist with the Agnus Dei in the basin and on the sides of the mullioned window on the left the Preaching of the Baptist and on the right the Martyrdom of the Baptist; in the basin of the main apse are depicted the Madonna enthroned with the Child among the saints Agostino, Feliciano, Dionisio and Nicola I, while on the sides of the mullioned window there are the Annunciation (top left), the Nativity of Jesus (top on the right), the Adoration of the Magi (bottom left) and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (lower right). The paintings are the work of Cesare Caroselli and Alessandro Palombi.



Crypt and relics

Below the schola cantorum there is the eighth century crypt, perhaps the oldest example of this type of environment, whose double stairway was opened in 1717 (previously there was only the right one).

The environment, whose internal walling dates back to the VIII century, has a rectangular plan, with a flat ceiling, with a tripartite hall in four aisles each by Corinthian columns.

Along the side walls there are sixteen semicircular niches, originally used to house the relics of the saints; the remains of the podium are embedded in the masonry in stone blocks of the invading altar of Ercole.

Peculiarity of this crypt is the transept, one of the rare cases of reintroduction in the Carolingian architecture of this element, typically Constantinian.

In correspondence with the central nave there is a semicircular crypt, inside which there is the altar (of the 5th-6th century), found and placed there during the restoration of the end of the 19th century), which contains the relics of Santa Cirilla and is decorated on the sides with bas-relief crosses.

Inside the basilica there are the relics of different saints. Among these, there is the skull credited to St. Valentine, not the saint revered on February 14, but a namesake, a “holy body” (martyrs invents), and the head of St. Adautto. The latter is most likely the martyr who was buried with Felice in a crypt near the cemetery of Commodilla on Via Ostiense.

Pope Siricius (384-399) built a small basilica on their tomb restored and embellished later by John I (523-526) and Leo III (795-816). Leo IV (847-855) gave them relics to Ermengarda, the wife of Lothario.

The church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin preserves other heads of martyrs invents (Adriano, Amelia, Angelo child, Antonino, Benedetto, Benigno, Candida, Candido, Clemenza, Concordia, Desirio, Desiderio, Generoso, Giuliano, Ippolito, Ottavio, Patrizio, Placido and Romano), as well as Olimpia’s leg and that of Saint Giovanni Battista de Rossi.




In the sacristy, which opens at the beginning of the right side aisle, one of the nine surviving fragments of the mosaic decoration of the oratory of John VII (705-707), part of the complex of the ancient basilica of San Pietro in Vaticano, is exhibited , brought to the basilica in 1639 at the behest of Urban VIII.

The cycle consisted of thirteen episodes of the life of Jesus from the Annunciation to his descent into hell, with the image of the praying Madonna on the altar; the passage present in Santa Maria in Cosmedin is the most extensive and in a better state of preservation and depicts the Adoration of the Magi.

The composition of the scene recalls that of the similar fresco in the church of Santa Maria Antiqua, also dating back to the pontificate of John VIII.

Of clear Paleochristian imprint, it is characterized by an upright angel placed between the Virgin and Child and the Magi, present in similar representations of the V and VI centuries. The wise men, gone lost, had different attitudes: the one on the extreme left (of which one can still see the hand and the gift), on his knees, offered Jesus a book; the other two, standing, arguing heatedly, which suggests a fusion of the journey of the magi and worship, previously distinct, in a single scene.

The mosaic was exhibited in the church of Santa Maria Antiqua between March and October 2016 as part of a temporary exhibition. In the previous months it was subjected to a restoration by the Institute for Conservation and Restoration.



How to get there


The Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, the skull of San Valentino and the Mouth of Truth can be easily reached by Metro (Line B – Circo Massimo stop) or a short walk from Trastevere.