On Thursday we did a tour of the Vatican City which encompassed the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica. The smallest state in the world is one busy place! I had visited the Vatican City back in 1997 but thought it was worth another visit with Steve.
Our guide Ricardo was well versed in the history and art of the Vatican City but it is a lot to take in. We spent about 15 minutes in the Sistine Chapel which was packed. The paintings didn’t seem as vibrant as I remembered them being – the same with the tapestries.
St Peter’s Basilica was just as impressive though. Ricardo pointed out the Holy Door, the last door on the right into the Basilica. This door is bricked up on the inside. On the first day of the Holy Year the Pope strikes the brick wall with a hammer, and so opens the door to let in the pilgrims who come to make the most of the indulgence. It will be closed by the Pope himself at the end of the Holy Year. The Holy Door represents Jesus, the Good Shepherd and the gate of the sheep pen: “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me, will be safe. He will go in and out, and find pasture” (Jn 10:9). The Holy Year is celebrated every 25 years. In this century two extraordinary Holy Years of Redemption have also been celebrated on the anniversary of Jesus’ death on the Cross: 1933 and 1983.
Vatican City officially the Vatican City State or the State of Vatican City is an independent state located within the city of Rome. With an area of 44 hectares (110 acres), and a population of about 1,000, it is the smallest state in the world by both area and population. However, formally it is not sovereign, with sovereignty being held by the Holy See.
The Holy See also called the See of Rome, is the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, the episcopal see of the Pope, and an independent sovereign entity. It serves as the central point of reference for the Catholic Church everywhere and the focal point of communion due to its position as the pre-eminent episcopal see of the universal church. Today, it is responsible for the governance of all Catholics, organised in their Particular Churches, Patriarchates and religious institutes.
Diplomatically, the Holy See acts and speaks for the whole church.
The creation of the Vatican City State was meant to ensure the diplomatic and spiritual independence of the Pope.
The independent city-state came into existence in 1929 by the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and Italy, which spoke of it as a new creation, not as a vestige of the much larger Papal States (756–1870), which had previously encompassed much of central Italy. According to the terms of the treaty, the Holy See has “full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction” over the city-state.
The Pope is ex officio head of state of Vatican City since the 1860s, functions dependent on his primordial function as bishop of the diocese of Rome. The term “Holy See” refers not to the Vatican state but to the Pope’s spiritual and pastoral governance, largely exercised through the Roman Curia. His official title with regard to Vatican City is Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City.
As the Vatican City is an enclave within Italy, its military defence is provided by the Italian armed forces. However, there is no formal defence treaty with Italy, as the Vatican City is a neutral state. Vatican City has no armed forces of its own, although the Swiss Guard is a military corps of the Holy See responsible for the personal security of the Pope, and resident in the state. Soldiers of the Swiss Guard are entitled to hold Vatican City State passports and nationality. Swiss mercenaries were historically recruited by Popes as part of an army for the Papal States, and the Pontifical Swiss Guard was founded by Pope Julius II on 22 January 1506 as the pope’s personal bodyguard and continues to fulfill that function. It is listed in the Annuario Pontificio under “Holy See”, not under “State of Vatican City”. At the end of 2005, the Guard had 134 members. Recruitment is arranged by a special agreement between the Holy See and Switzerland. All recruits must be Catholic, unmarried males with Swiss citizenship who have completed their basic training with the Swiss Armed Forces with certificates of good conduct, be between the ages of 19 and 30, and be at least 174 cm (5 ft 9 in) in height. Members are equipped with small arms and the traditional halberd (also called the Swiss voulge), and trained in bodyguarding tactics. The Palatine Guard and the Noble Guard, the last armed forces of the Vatican City State, were disbanded by Pope Paul VI in 1970. As Vatican City has listed every building in its territory on the International Register of Cultural Property under Special Protection, the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict theoretically renders it immune to armed attack.
Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on the 17th December 1936 is the 266th and current Pope and sovereign of the Vatican City State. Francis is the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first pope from outside Europe since the Syrian Gregory III, who reigned in the 8th century.
Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Bergoglio worked briefly as a chemical technologist and nightclub bouncer before beginning seminary studies. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1969, and from 1973 to 1979 was Argentina’s provincial superior of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). He became the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and was created a cardinal in 2001 by Pope John Paul II. He led the Argentine Church during the December 2001 riots in Argentina. The administrations of Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner considered him a political rival. Following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on 28 February 2013, a papal conclave elected Bergoglio as his successor on 13 March. He chose Francis as his papal name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Within the Vatican City are religious and cultural sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. They feature some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures. The unique economy of Vatican City is supported financially by the sale of postage stamps and tourist mementos, fees for admission to museums, and the sale of publications.
The Vatican Museums are Christian and art museums located within the city boundaries of the Vatican City. They display works from the immense collection amassed by Popes throughout the centuries including some of the most renowned classical sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world. The museums contain roughly 70,000 works, of which 20,000 are on display, and currently employ 640 people who work in 40 different administrative, scholarly, and restoration departments.
Pope Julius II founded the museums in the early 16th century. The Sistine Chapel, with its ceiling decorated by Michelangelo and the Stanze di Raffaello decorated by Raphael, are on the visitor route through the Vatican Museums. In 2017, they were visited by 6 million people, which combined makes it the 4th most visited art museum in the world.
The Sistine Chapel is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope, in Vatican City. Originally known as the Cappella Magna, the chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who restored it between 1477 and 1480. Since that time, the chapel has served as a place of both religious and functionary papal activity. Today it is the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the frescos that decorate the interior, and most particularly the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo.
Between 1508 and 1512, under the patronage of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo painted the chapel’s ceiling, a project which changed the course of Western art and is regarded as one of the major artistic accomplishments of human civilization. In a different climate after the Sack of Rome, he returned and between 1535 and 1541, painted The Last Judgment for Popes Clement VII and Paul III. The fame of Michelangelo’s paintings has drawn multitudes of visitors to the chapel ever since they were revealed five hundred years ago.
St Peter’s Basilica
The Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican or simply St. Peter’s Basilica, is an Italian Renaissance church in Vatican City, the papal enclave within the city of Rome.
Designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Peter’s is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and the largest church in the world. While it is neither the mother church of the Catholic Church nor the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, St. Peter’s is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic shrines. It has been described as “holding a unique position in the Christian world” and as “the greatest of all churches of Christendom”.
Catholic tradition holds that the Basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter, chief among Jesus’s Apostles and also the first Bishop of Rome. Saint Peter’s tomb is supposedly directly below the high altar of the Basilica. For this reason, many Popes have been interred at St. Peter’s since the Early Christian period, and there has been a church on this site since the time of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. Construction of the present basilica, which would replace Old St. Peter’s Basilica from the 4th century AD, began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626.
St. Peter’s is famous as a place of pilgrimage and for its liturgical functions. The Pope presides at a number of liturgies throughout the year, drawing audiences of 15,000 to over 80,000 people, either within the Basilica or the adjoining St. Peter’s Square. St. Peter’s has many historical associations, with the Early Christian Church, the Papacy, the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-reformation and numerous artists, especially Michelangelo. As a work of architecture, it is regarded as the greatest building of its age. St. Peter’s is one of the four churches in the world that hold the rank of Major Basilica, all four of which are in Rome. Contrary to popular misconception, it is not a cathedral because it is not the seat of a bishop; the Cathedra of the Pope as Bishop of Rome is in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran.
The visit to the holy land warranted a second visit to the holy food – Bonci Pizza! Well we were in the neighbourhood so it was only right. It was busy and we waited about 40 minutes to be served – it was so worth the wait though 😋.