history of the vatican

History of the Vatican

            The State of the Vatican City is one of the most significant places in religion.  This place holds most value to Roman Catholicism, as it is the residence of the high officials of the Catholic Church.  However, the most important Catholic figure who is found in Vatican City is the Pope.  It is therefore no surprise that thousands of Catholics visit the state every year.  While it is important to recognize the relevance of this state at present, it is also crucial to look into the history of one of the most visited places in the world.  This research paper aims to discuss the history of the Vatican.

            The history of the Vatican can be traced before Christianity came along (“History”).  The area that this now known as Vatican City was initially unoccupied but was already believed to be sacrosanct.  During the Roman era, the territory was also utilized as a place of worship for the Phrygian goddess named Cybele and her companion Appis.  It was said that during the 1st century AD, Agrippina the Elder was responsible for maintaining the hill and adding the gardens.  By 40 AD, Caligula had begun building a circus, a project that would later be finished by Nero.  It would soon be called the “Circus Gaii et Neronis” (“History”).  This circus was used as a venue for chariot races and other forms of contests (“Vatican”).

            The area later became known for Christian martyrdom (“History”).  In 64 AD, Nero oppressed and punished many Christians (Vatican City State).  One of those Christians was Saint Peter.  It was in that circus where Saint Peter became a martyr; he was “crucified upside down” (“History”; Vatican City State).  This was the time when the circus served another purpose as a burial ground (“Vatican”).

            It was under the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Constantine the Great that the treatment of Christians improved (Vatican City State).  With the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, Christians were again permitted to build sites of worship.  Constantine the Great also had ordered the construction of a basilica (“Vatican”).  The location of the basilica was the area where Saint Peter was presumed to have been buried.  Saint Peter is considered as the first pope.  There were two objectives in the construction of the basilica (Vatican City State). The first objective was to have the basilica encircle “Gaius’s Trophy,” the structure which guarded the tomb of Saint Peter (Vatican City State).  The second objective was to have the tomb at the middle of the basilica.  Saint Peter’s Basilica was built in 324 and was blessed in 329 (Vatican City State).  It was in the year 800 when the basilica was used for an important event.  That year, Charlemagne became the Holy Roman Emperor and his coronation was held in the basilica (Vatican City State).

            A century after the basilica was built, popes held functions and other events in places near the basilica (“Vatican”).  During that time, the popes resided in a place located outside Rome which was called the Lateran Palace.  There was remarkable change in the 15th century, when the popes left Avignon, France to officially reside in the Vatican Palace.  From that time onwards, popes had assumed secular positions and were able to rule over certain areas (“History”).  They governed many lands, which were a significant part of the Italian territory.  These lands were called the Papal States—these states where Italian lands that were under the ownership of the Church (“Vatican”).  The control of the Papal States lasted for over a thousand years (“History”).  Meanwhile, the popes then decided to reconstruct and augment the existing Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Palace as well (“Vatican”).  When the popes left Rome, the thousand-year old basilica was already in a bad shape; the structural problems had to be addressed (Vatican City State).  In the 16th century, the papacy was faced with dilemma: either the basilica would be reconstructed, or it would simply be restored.  Pope Julius II was undecided, so he left the responsibility to one remarkable architect by the name of Donato Bramante. They eventually expanded the area with the addition of gardens and other structures (“Vatican”).  The expansion continued in the latter part of the 16th century, going beyond the Vatican territory.  The expansion proceeded, even if the popes and the government relocated to the Quirinal Palace (“Vatican”).

            In the 19th century, the papacy lost control of the Papal States (“History”).  It all began in 1860 when an army, driven by civil disputes and political turmoil, was formed (U.S. Department of State).  This army was consisted of the Piedmontese, and was lead by Victor Emmanuel (“History”).  That same year, Victor Emmanuel and his army took over the Papal States; however, they left Rome and other regions untouched (U.S. Department of State).

It was in 1870 when the territories governed by the Pope were left unaccounted for.  That time, Victor Emmanuel seized Rome and made it the capital of Italy (U.S. Department of State).  The seizure and declaration rendered the papacy powerless when it came to the former territories.  Between the years 1870 and 1929, the Piedmontese allowed the popes certain privileges, but only to an extent (“History”).  It was only under the Law of Guarantees in which the popes can “send and receive ambassadors” (“History”).  The Italian authorities did not bother the popes, but left them confined in their palace (“History”).

The seizure of the Papal States was met with protest.  The seizure of property angered the popes; for half a century they rejected all offers of monetary assistance and even refused to acknowledge the Italian government.  The popes locked themselves inside the Vatican as self-imposed prisoners.  This dilemma was referred to as the Roman Question.  While the conflict was still ongoing, other states still acknowledged the Holy See as an independent “sovereign entity” (“History”).  The newly installed Italian government did not meddle in the concerns of the papacy within the limits of the Vatican.  However, outside the Vatican, the Italian government had control over former papal property.  Most of the properties of the Church were seized, the most significant of which is the former papal residence, the Quirinal Palace (“History”).

The problem between the Vatican and the Italian government was eventually settled in 1929 (“History”; “Vatican”). There were three agreements made to settle the conflict.  The first one was the Lateran Treaty (“Vatican”).  The treaty was made possible by the negotiation between the prime minister of Italy Benito Mussolini and the spokespersons of Pope Pius XI.  According to treaty, the Italian government was to acknowledge the Vatican City as a pope-governed independent state.  Consequently, the treaty states that the Roman Catholic Church was to acknowledge the government of Italy and its capital, which is Rome.  The second agreement established the relationship between the Italian government and the Church within the Italian territory (U.S. Department of State).  The last agreement stipulated that the Italian government must financially support the Vatican for its losses in 1870 (“Vatican”; U.S. Department of State).    From then on, all popes have resided in Vatican City (“Vatican”).  The second agreement was eventually amended in 1984; it included modifications of the terms of the relationship between Church and state (U.S. Department of State).

The State of the Vatican City has a very colorful history.  Prior to the arrival of Christianity, the area in which the city was built was already considered as holy ground.  It was a place of worship for a goddess before it became the most significant place for Roman Catholicism.  Though Christians were persecuted under Nero, the fate of Saint Peter proved to be instrumental in the establishment of the Vatican.  Constantine the Great built a basilica where the tomb of Saint Peter was situated.  Though the papacy encountered difficulty with the annexation of Rome, Vatican City remained independent and sovereign with the Lateran Treaty.  Now that the history of the city is revealed, its relevance at present is better understood.

Works Cited

“The Vatican City History.” Roman Trip. 25 Sept. 2008 <http://classes.design.ucla.edu/si06/student_html/desma2/sessionD/ludovica/rometrip/vatican.html>.

U.S. Department of State. “Background Note: Holy See.” Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. July 2008. 25 Sept. 2008 <http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3819.htm>.

“Vatican City.” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. 2008. 25 Sept. 2008 <http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761551674_2/Vatican_City.html>.

Vatican City State. “History.” Vatican City State Homepage. 25 Sept. 2008 <http://www.vaticanstate.va/EN/Monuments/Saint_Peters_Basilica/History–p–1.htm>.

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