A Tourist in Rome - Santa Maria in Cosmedin
|Location:||Via Luigi Petroselli, at Via del Circo Massimo|
|Metro:||Circo Massimo and Bus #160, or see it on my To the Forum Boarium and Beyond Walking Tour instead|
|Time:||about 30 minutes to see the church, about 30 minutes more (depending on the length of the line) to see the Mouth of Truth|
|Hours:||9 AM - 1 PM and 3 PM - 6 PM|
The church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin (1st photo below) is a focal point today in the area beside the Tiber which was once the Forum Boarium (Cattle Market) of ancient Rome. The church's tall campanile (bell tower, see 2nd and 3rd photos below) forms a landmark of this area. Most people come to this church to only see the famous Mouth of Truth (4th photo below) in the portico of the church, waiting in a half hour line to get their photo taken with their hand in the mouth like Gregory Peck did in the movie Roman Holiday, but there is much more to this church than that, and it deserves a closer look.
The nave of Santa Maria in Cosmedin (1st and 2nd photos below) shows the church to have the layout of a simple basilica. The floors are an excellent example of cosmatesque paving (3rd and 4th photos below), a style of inlaid stonework used in medieval Italy, derived from that of the Byzantine Empire, as are the floors in Santa Maria in Aracoeli, San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria in Trastevere.
An interesting feature of the church is the Schola cantorum, an enclosure for the singers of the liturgy that has survived from medieval times. The Schola cantorum is shown from the back in the 2nd photo above. It is a step higher than the nave, and in the close-up photo of the inside of the Schola cantorum (1st photo below), the cosmetesque flooring is shown to be even more intricate than the floor of the nave. Pulpits (2nd and 3rd photos below) are on the sides of the Schola cantorum. The main altar of the church is in front of the Schola cantorum (1st photo below).
The site of the church was used for religious purposes as far back as the 8th century BC, when the Ara Maxima, an altar dedicated to Hercules, stood here. A Christian church first appeared here at the end of the 6th century, but was rebuilt in 782 AD by Pope Adrian I. It was later given the name Cosmedin, which means "beautiful thing", a reference to the rich decoration of this church. Ten ancient columns are incorporated in the fabric of the church, including those in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd photos below. To the left and right of the main door (3rd photo below) are standardized Roman weights, one of which is shown in the 4th photo below.
A few more miscellaneous pieces of artwork are shown in the photos below. The 1st photo below shows a symbol of death, the 2nd photo below shows a frescoed archway, and the 3rd photo below shows the Paschal Candle, the twisted 18th century column on a 13th century base which includes a sculpted lion, all unfortunately in front of a confusing column in the background of my photo. Sorry about that poor composition.
It's easy to miss the crypt of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. A stairway on either side of the altar leads down into the crypt. (A few euro donation was taken at the top of the stairs when I visited.) The stairs lead into a room with niches in the walls (2nd photo below), probably once used for burials. I saw no sign explaining them, it's my assumption they were used for burials. An altar (3rd photo below) is at the end of the crypt. Tufa stones in the crypt (4th and 5th photos below), first used in the 2nd century BC, are claimed to be part of the Ara Maxima.
When you leave the church, be sure to see the inscriptions (1st and 2nd photos below) on either side of the outside of the main door. There are no spaces between the Latin words, which was common practice to save expensive papyrus, but not usually done on stone monuments. One inscription, from the 10th century, describes how a man donated land and sacred vessels to a different church, and was mounted here after that church fell into ruin during the 9th century. The other tablet, from the 8th century, describes how two brothers donated some local property to the church.