Chiesa di Santa Maria in Aracoeli

Church in Ancient Rome

Atop the steep 14th-century Aracoeli staircase, this 6th-century Romanesque church marks the highest point of the Campidoglio. Its rich interior boasts several treasures including a wooden gilt ceiling, an impressive Cosmatesque floor and a series of 15th-century Pinturicchio frescoes illustrating the life of St Bernardine of Siena. Its main claim to fame, though, is a wooden baby Jesus that's thought to have healing powers.

In fact, the Jesus doll – in the Cappella del S Bambino to the left of the main altar – is a copy. The original, which was supposedly made of wood from the garden of Gethsemane, was pinched in 1994 and has never been recovered.

The church sits on the site of the Roman temple to Juno Moneta and has long had an association with the nativity. According to legend, it was here that the Tiburtine Sybil told Augustus of the coming birth of Christ.


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