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Vatican City is is the world's smallest country, a sovereign city-state located entirely within Rome. Created by the Lateran Accords of 1929, it had many previous, far more powerful incarnations, such as the Papal States.
The Pope, of which the Vatican is his primary residence, is the head of state of Vatican City, but is also the ruling body of The Holy See, the government of the Church whose influence extends far outside the city's walls.
The Holy See is not a member of the United Nations, but it has Permanent Observer status. Remarkably, this situation is the result of the Church being very honorable: since the UN holds freedom and democracy as one of its highest values, and the Vatican is neither free nor democratic (as it is an absolute monarchy and all its inhabitants are either clergy oath-bound to obey the Pope or Swiss Guards oath-bound to obey the Pope), it declines to be a full member of the body out of honesty. This isn't to say that the Church is opposed to freedom or democracy--quite the opposite--but that the Vatican works best as it is, and nobody complains (it is the only state in the world where everyone who lives there has made an active and completely voluntary choice to do so). Vatican City also does not participate in the European Union, its income primarily consisting of contributions from believers around the world, as well as its tourist sector, although it uses the Euro as currency.
The smallest city/state devotes much of its money back outside, often leaving it slightly in the red. While it gained $355.5 million in revenue in 2008, it spent $356.8 million. Vatican City does house a vast and priceless collection of art collected over its multi-millenial existence, but chooses to keep the treasures for all to see; else, a private collector could buy and shut it away forever.
Please note that you must dress appropriately to enter.
Nowadays, the city mainly serves as the administrative capital of Catholicism and a major religious tourist destination in Rome.
A common misnomer: While the Pope lives within Rome, the religion's official name is simply "The Catholic Church." The term "Roman" (or "Latin") just defines one of the rites, or liturgical practices, of a bulk of their followers. There are numerous Eastern Catholic churches (e.g. the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the Maronite Catholic Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Armenian Catholic Church, the Assyrian Catholic Church...), which use various non-Latin rites: namely, the Byzantine Rite (broadly similar to the Eastern Orthodox liturgy), Alexandrian Rite (broadly similar to the Oriental Orthodox), the Antiochan/West Syrian Rite, and the East Syrian Rite. There are also variant Latin/Western rites, including the Ambrosian Rite (still used in Milan), the Mozarabic Rite (formerly used by the Catholics of Muslim Spain), the Sarum Rite (formerly used in England), and the Anglican Use (used by congregations which were once Anglo-Catholic--i.e. Catholicizing members of the Anglican Communion--who decided to have done with it already and join the Catholic Church, but retained the Anglican liturgy).
Vatican City is the only nation in the world that can lock its own gates at night. It has its own phone company, radio, T.V. stations, money, and stamps. It even has its own army, the historic Swiss Guard.
The Vatican In Fiction
- Angels and Demons, where someone begins a series of ritual murders in the city.
- Hellsing: the manga features an attack on the Vatican by a New Age cult, and later includes a cameo of Pope John Paul II (yes, they actually refers to him directly as Papa Joannes Paulus Secundus, lawsuits be damned) authorizing a crusade to reconquer England.
- In The Legend of Koizumi, Koizumi meets Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican for a truly epic mahjong match.
- In Van Helsing there is a secret society made up of members of many religions and nations who fight to protect mankind from evil; its base of operations is underground, just beneath St. Peter's Basilica.
- Mission Impossible 3
- Burgled by Bruce Willis in the So Bad It's Good Hudson Hawk.
- The Tudors
- The Borgias
- The Scarlet and the Black
- The Vatican as represented in Scandinavia and The World is portrayed as a kindly old man in popish garb (with his flag as his robe) who gets freaked out by the Scandinavians' Christmas traditions.
- Shows up in Assassin's Creed II as the site of the final mission, with the bulk of it taking place in the Sistine Chapel. In a nod to history, the Chapel's ceiling lacks its famous fresco painting, as the level takes place in the year 1499, before the fresco was put in. The sequel, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, also features the Vatican prominently (what with the game being set in Rome and all), and has you breaking in several times.
- Penn and Teller Bullshit had an episode dedicated to calling out the Vatican.