The Unexplained: The Mysterious Mouth of Truth

In the Middle Ages, the Mouth of Truth myth was born: it was said that liars who placed their hand inside the sculpture would immediately lose it. Supposedly, Medieval Romans saw the sculpture as a lie detector for those who committed acts like adultery and perjury.

There is a legend that the stone mouth has supernatural properties. It can tell if a person is telling the truth.

There he rests, a spooky, ticked-off vestige of the ages–in Goliath proportions. He is an odd stone sculpture that now sits just outside the doors of the Basilica de Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome, Italy.  The name of this church translates very roughly to Saint Mary the Beautiful.

Basilica de Santa Maria in Cosmedin, a medieval structure, is located south of central Rome, a little southwest of the Roman Forum, near a sharp bend in the River Tiber (Tevere).  The Bocca della Verita, Mouth of Truth, is at the gate of the Basilica in the portico.

Bocca della Verita is this:  a stone disc, carved into a humanoid face.  It stares ominously, with vacant round eyes over a gaping cave-like mouth.  It was carved of marble, around the time of first century B.C.

What was it’s original purpose?  Who or what did it represent–and why was it important to create it?

Sara Marie Hogg

Through the centuries it has served as part of a fountain decoration, a well cover, a drain cover, and even a manhole cover.

The Mouth of Truth has always found a job to do.

Whose face could it be?  A river God revered in the area for centuries?  The widely-known forest god, Faunus?  Or could it possibly be the sea god, Oceanus?  The favorite choice, by far, is Oceanus.

The huge marble mask weighs 2800 pounds and it is 5′ 9″ x 5′ 9″ and about seven inches thick.

There is a legend that it has supernatural properties – it is a lie detector.  It can tell if a person is telling the truth.  If a person sticks a hand into the mouth of the carving while making a statement, and the statement is true, nothing will happen at all.  If the person is lying, their hand will be bitten off by sharp, hidden, teeth in the Bocca della Verita.

How could this lie detecting happen without some kind of spiritual intervention, paranormal assistance? No one knows, but it was reported happening enough times over the centuries for the sculpture to get a reputation for accuracy.  It may have even been used to decide legal cases.

It is reported that it definitely had some extra help in the Middle Ages by an axeman being strategically hidden behind the Mouth of Truth.  It was during this time that it was definitely used as a way to decide the outcome of legal cases.  The axeman or his overseers could not know if a person was lying or telling the truth, so it boggles the mind to ponder the many miscarriages of justice that happened.

The Mouth of Truth had a big part in the movie, Roman Holiday, and it has appeared in video games and fortune telling machines.

My good friend Lynn, has recently confessed that she has actually put a hand in the scary mouth when she visited Italy.  She still has both hands.

Please click HERE to find Sara’s fictional memoir of the 1950s, Catho Darlington, on Amazon.

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