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Chiesa di Santa Maria in Aracoeli

Ancient Rome

Atop the steep 124-step Aracoeli staircase, this 6th-century Romanesque church sits on the highest point of the Campidoglio. Its richly decorated 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 Bernardino of Siena. Its chief 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 stolen in 1994 and has never been recovered.

The church sits on the site of the Roman temple to Juno Moneta and has long been associated 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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