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The Santa Bambino inside Santa Maria in Aracoeli, atop Rome's Capitol hill. A 15th-century Franciscan monk carved this olive-wood figure of the Christ Child. A sign explains that he lacked paint to decorate the idol so a saint came down and finished it for him. While being transported on a boat, the Bambino was washed overboard but miraculously arrived at its intended destination on its own. The idol is richly attired in fine fabrics and jewels, gifts from people who have been helped by its powers. Sometimes the Bambino is carried to the beds of the gravely ill. If it can help the sick person, the wooden lips turn purple. If not, the lips turn pale.

copyright 1996 philg@mit.edu

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