You can’t resist putting your hand inside this misterious, but intriguing stone face.
Do you know why? Have you ever heard about the legend behind this mask?
Whatever the season, whatever the weather, so many tourists every day line up outside the beautiful Paleochristian church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin – once called Forum Boarium – to photograph their hand into the large marble medallion mouth that from time immemorial is located in this place.
In Ancient Rome, the mask was the cover of the sacred well of the temple of Mercury, where the ancient Roman traders swore their honesty during a sale and where they purified themselves for their perjury. Confirming this hypothesis is the famous medieval legend which states that if a lie is said while holding thy hand in the mouth of the mask, the magic mask “bites”, thus cutting off the liar’s hand.
In the imperial eras the mask, representing the river god, “Portuno”, a faun (half man and half horse), as a tribute to the gods nearby temple.
However, no one exactly knows when the big faun stone was associated with the faculty in declaring the Truth. The stone was already mentioned in “Mirabilia Urbis Romae” in the year one thousand, but it is in the Middle Ages that the tradition became stronger and more frequently used as a popular ancient truth machine.
In particular, the stone was supposed to reveal itself on adultery cases, if a liar (in particularly women) puts their hand inside its mouth, they will lose it.
A vulgar and mischievous human trick allowed the ancient stone to express itself. Often there was a judge hidden behind the mask that would have represented the people’s judgement accordingly.
This legend probably originates from ancient Roman times. It is said that the rich wife of a noble roman was accused of adultery. She had been caught by the neighbors in receiving assiduous visits of a lover while her husband was away for embassies out of town. The woman denied the accusations, but her husband wanted to be put her to the test by making her put her hand inside the stone mouth. Knowing perfectly well that she was lying, the woman used a very sly strategy. In front of a group of curious bystanders who had gathered around the Mouth of Truth, the man who was actually her lover embraced her and kissed her. She pretended that she didn’t know him and accused him of being a madman and the crowd chased him away.
When calm was restored, the supposed adulteress walked proudly to the stone and putting her hand into the opening of the mouth declaring this sentence: “I swear that no man has ever embraced and kissed me, besides my husband and that young lunatic!”. The betrayed husband saved her honor, but the Mouth of Truth lost its credibility and it is said that since that day it no longer carried out its function as a right and unappeasable judge.
The astute woman, who had managed to find along with her lover an expedient to deceive everyone, including the same mouth, didn’t know that, with her falsified gesture, the people tought that judgement god went and became a less scarry judgement object that is used more for fun than as a real and reliable guillotine up to today.
The mask is so famous that even Hollywood honored it in a film about the city called Roman Holiday. In one of the most memorable scenes, Gregory Peck, in front of a terrified Audrey Hepburn, daringly challenges the mask by putting his hand inside its mouth. He pretended that his hand was being cut off scaring Audrey half to death. A memorable scene!!!
So what are you waiting for? Now it’s your turn to discover if your lover is a liar or if the mask decides to break its millennial and mysterious silence and the god will come back to cut your hand off for your lie.
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