Rome: The True Story of the Mouth of Truth

The Mouth of Truth a marble sculpture depicting the face of an old, wise, bearded man.

The name, chosen in 1845, refers to the medieval legend surrounding this mask. It is assumed that this statue was originally a manhole cover like so many others in Rome.

This one, however, located near the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, had the features of a man that for some was to represent Jupiter.

According to others, however, this sculpture was made as a cover for the sacred well in the temple of Mercury.

This theory would also be related to the legends around the Mouth of Truth: in this place, in fact, the ancient Roman merchants took an oath of honesty in their work and purified themselves from their perjury.



The legend of severed hands

Legend has it that the Mouth of Truth is magical!

In fact, it is said that this statue is able to detect liars.

The legend originated in the Middle Ages: if you lie, holding your hand in the mouth of the sculpture, it will cut it off!

Actually, in this period during the trials the suspect was asked to introduce his hand into the mouth of the mask. If he was found innocent, he would withdraw his hand unharmed, but if he was found guilty, the mask would close his mouth and cut off his hand.

Behind the mask, in fact, there was an executor, who at the first sign cut off the hand of the offender.

For this reason, jealous or suspicious husbands would take their cheating wives to the Mouth of Truth. If the story of the lies had been true in the Middle Ages, surely it would have been true always.

The husbands, brought their wives to the statue and by introducing their hand, the women had to declare that they had not cheated on them.

Let’s say that most of the time this solution worked to unmask the traitors. But one story also tells how a woman managed to evade the sculpture with her own cunning.

The woman, who really had a lover, in order not to be discovered, made an agreement with the man.

Thus, the woman’s lover passed in front of the Mouth of Truth before she put her hand in the crack and pretending to be a madman, embraced her.

The woman at this point confessed to her husband that she had embraced only one other man besides him: the madman who had just passed by!


The Mouth of Truth was made famous worldwide by the 1953 film, Roman Holiday.

The protagonists Joe Bradley played by Gregory Peck and Princess Anna, Audrey Hepburn, experienced one of the most famous moments of the film right in front of the statue.

In fact, Joe tricks poor, naive Princess Anna by pretending to lose his hand in the sculpture.

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