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ST. VALENTINE IN ROME: SANTA MARIA IN COSMEDIN
As you might suspect, Rome has a great link to St. Valentine. In fact, the 9th century basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, in a small chapel on the left side, has a glass reliquary with a skull surrounded by flowers above which is lettering identifying the head as that of the patron saint of lovers, St. Valentine
At least three different Saint Valentines – all martyrs and two of them prelates, one the Bishop of Terni – are mentioned in early Church martyrologies for the date of February 14. When Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia introduced Pope Francis at an event for engaged couples on Valentine’s Day, 2014, he referred to Valentine as Terni’s first Bishop who died in 273 during the persecutions of Emperor Aurelius. In 496, Pope Gelasius made Feb. 14 a feast day dedicated to St. Valentine.
I paid an impromptu visit to this lovely, ancient and rather small basilica on February 14 a few years ago as, earlier in the day, I had read that the head (skull) of St. Valentine was in this church. I had not known that and so deccided to drop everything and pay a visit and take some pictures.
I posted did a Facebook live that day which I know is out there in cyberspace but for the life of me I cannot find the photos I took of this splendid church. I literally just spent one hour going through my vast photo archives, only to come up empty handed. And yet I know they are somewhere in my laptop.
My visit was so impromptu that I did not think of going online to first research a bit of history as knowing some history would have been helpful for the Facebook Live video that I did while visiting the chapel containing the head (skull) of St. Valentine and documenting the stupenddous cposmatesquare floor.
I have been online since and present the following brief history from differennt sources. And someday, I will find my photos and bring them to you.
Santa Maria in Cosmedin is the Byzantine rite church for Melkite Catholics in Rome, as well as a minor basilica of the 9th century. Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, it’s on Piazza della Bocca della Verità 18. No longer a parish church, it is officially titular but has not had a resident cardinal for some time.
The name Cosmedin comes from the Greek word “kosmidion,” meaning ornamented, thanks to its beautifully decorated interior. Nowadays, the church is practically bare, although it still has some magnificent elements such as the floor mosaics, the bishop’s chair, the baldachin and the medieval choir enclosure.
The restored Medieval façade has a portico with seven arches, in which visitors queue to place their hand in the mouth of the legendary Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth). Legend has it that if a person places his or her hand in the mouth of the statue and lies, the mouth will close and cut their hand off.
Next to the church’s porch is an impressive Romanesque bell tower built during the twelfth century.
Crypt: The crypt, constructed in the eighth century, is located beneath the altar and was built to store the relics taken from the catacombs by Pope Adrian I. The crypt is shaped like a small basilica. The sidewalls have several niches, each with shelves made of marble, where the different relics are displayed.
Santa Maria in Cosmedin: history of the basilica, crypt of Adrian I, Mouth of Truth (rome.us)
The marble-workers of Rome (marmorarii Romani) active in the 12th and 13th centuries produced, among other things, stunning floors in Roman basilicas (perhaps you noticed them if you’ve been to Rome). In fact, I mention the words cosmatesque and cosmati often in my book, A Holy Year in Rome, because these are the terms used to describe the characteristic use of polychrome marble and mosaic inlay by these Roman artists. Those terms, I have been told, refer to the Cosma family, the “first family” of marble cutters who invented this style of flooring. I learned from research that the Cosmatus (Cosma) was a Roman family, seven members of which, for four generations, were skilful architects, sculptors and workers in decorative geometric mosaic, mostly for church floors.