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Santa Maria in Aracoeli

Santa Maria in Aracoeli (51)

The church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, or St. Mary of the Altar, is located in the southern part of the Capitoline hill, on the ruins of the Temple of Juno. It is said that on this very site, Emperor Augustus had a vision announcing the birth of Jesus. Construction of the church was paid for by Pope Gregory XIII, whose family emblem, the dragon, can be found near the altar.

The church was rebuilt in a very austere style by the Franciscans in the thirteenth century.

One of its most striking features is the steep staircase that comprises 124 steps and was completed, in 1348, in gratitude for the end the Black Death. The fourteenth-century tribune, Cola di Rienzo, would address the public from this staircase. 

Mention should also be made of the popular belief that if you climb the whole staircase on your knees, you will win the national lottery.

Returning to the church, on its interior are works by artists such as Arnolfo di Cambio and Pietro Cavalli. The floor abounds with tombs and the ceiling decoration commemorates the victory at the Battle of Lepanto.

Do not fail to visit the Capilla Bufalini, which is decorated with frescos by Pinturicchio that depict the life and death of Saint Bernardino of Siena. 

The church, however, is known mainly for the Santo Bambino, a figure of the Baby Jesus carved in wood. It is believed to have been made in the fifteenth century and that the wood comes from the Garden of Gethsemane. However, the figure here is a copy, as the original was stolen in 1994. 

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