The Backstory on The Mouth of Truth

Since I’ve always been intrigued by this relic, I was determined to see it on my trip to Italy.  My graduate school class was going there for our three-day preceptorship, during which we were to learn about the Italian healthcare system. Because I wanted to travel around the country a bit before our program, I asked a friend to go. She said yes. She had been to Italy before, but it was my first trip abroad where I had to take an actual plane to get there.

We flew from our hometown to Boston. Our outgoing flight from Boston to Rome was canceled because a VIP was landing in Philadelphia, so all their air traffic was being diverted to Boston.  After spending hours in line, and an endless time with a flight agent, we decided to hedge our bets by flying to London’s Heathrow airport and getting booked “standby” from there to Rome. We only spent a few hours at Heathrow before we were able to get on that flight for which we had hoped.

We arrived in Rome about 12 hours later than anticipated per our original itinerary, thus had to pare our plans down a bit. My friend’s luggage arrived with us, but mine did not.  She let me borrow some clothes, and we went shopping. We also visited the big landmarks in Rome like the Colosseo, the Temple of Saturn, and a couple of others before embarking on our journey to find the Mouth of Truth.

Let me warn you, that if you go to Rome and wish to visit this particular spot, don’t ask for it by the English name, because no one knows what that is.  The actual name for this attraction is Bocca della Verita.  If you don’t already know what is is, let me quote from Wikipedia: “Starting from the Middle Ages, it was believed that if one told a lie with one’s hand in the mouth of the sculpture, it would be bitten off. The piece was placed in the portico of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin in the 17th century. This church is also home to the supposed relics of Saint Valentine.”

I had looked at a map of Rome before traveling, so I knew the general area in which it would be, but I could not remember the name of the place where it was located.  We went around and around. Finally, we discovered that this sculpture was hidden behind scaffolding outside a church that was undergoing an exterior cleaning slash renovation, and The Mouth was underneath the church’s portico. There was a line of people waiting to have their photo taken, but we didn’t have to wait more than 45 minutes.

My friend went first, and then I it was my turn. My reaction to actually putting my hand in the mouth was the same as all the people I watched before me. I knew it was a legend of folklore, but it didn’t matter.  I almost expected something to happen when I put my hand in that wise and vengeful mouth. I expected that somehow I would either feel the real bite, or someone would play a trick on me. Nothing happened, but I still felt a chill.  There is no telling how many people, over the course of time since this marble face earned its reputation, have hesitatingly inserted a timid hand into its toothless maul, and were surprised at not being bitten. 

So there it is. My story of experiencing the thrill of famous, foreign folklore, both philosophical and real. ImageBocca