Byzantine BasilicaThe Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin is one of Rome’s older Christian churches. It is a minor basilica which was built in the 6th century AD during the Byzantine rule of Rome. The church is more simplistic in its design than many of the larger and more elaborate Roman Basilicas, but it is no less beautiful.
The church was built over the site of an ancient Temple to Hercules, near one of the main food distribution centres in Rome in the ancient Forum Boarium. This was Rome’s main cattle market on the Tiber. In keeping with the tradition of its location, the church was set up as a church for poor people where charitable distributions were given out.
The skull of St. Valentine
The bell tower of the Basilica is impressive, with seven stories of arched windows each with two tiny Roman columns supporting them. The interior of the church is even more lovely, as the name of the church implies – Cosmedin comes from the Greek kosmidion, which means 'ornate.'
The columned nave is of ancient origin, probably built in 69-81 AD in the Forum Boarium. In 200 AD an underground chapel was built for Christians, who at that time were forced to practise their faith in secrecy. This is now the crypt of the church. A side altar holds the skull of St. Valentine, for whom we celebrate an annual day of love on 14 February.
In the outer portico you will find the famous Bocca della Verità
, an ancient Roman marble carving of a face which, according to legend, will bite off the hand of a liar who puts his hand in its gaping mouth. Today many tourists come to test the old myth and for a photo opportunity.