February 11th – The Lateran Treaty is signed, the Vatican City is created

Benito Mussolini and Pietro Gasparri signing the Lateran Treaty in 1929, bringing the Vatican City into existence.

Benito Mussolini and Pietro Gasparri signing the Lateran Treaty in 1929, bringing the Vatican City into existence.

On this day in 1929, the Lateran Treaty was signed between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See (the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome), which created the Vatican City and brought resolution to the “Roman Question”. Ever since the Risorgimento (Italian unification) in 1870, the political status of the Pope in Italy had been disputed, however the Lateran Treaty resolved these issues and created the world’s smallest sovereign state: the Vatican City (only 110 acres in area, and a population of 840 today).

Italy before Risorgimento was divided amongst several independent nations. Amongst these nations was the Papal States, a collection of lands in Central Italy, centered on Rome, that were under the direct rule of the Pope himself. While the rest of the Italian peninsula was being united under the leadership of King Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont-Sardinia, the Papal States actively resisted unification efforts, wishing to maintain Church sovereignty over their lands. French Emperor Napoleon III left a garrison of troops in Rome to protect the Papal States from Italian unification. The threat of war with Prussia, however, led Napoleon III to withdraw his garrison from Rome and back to France, leaving the Papal States nominally defenseless. In 1870, Italian troops moved into the Papal States and occupied Rome, moving the capital of the Kingdom of Italy from Florence to the ‘Eternal City’ (prior to Florence, Turin was the capital of Italy). The Pope did not recognize the authority of the new Italian government in Rome, and for almost 60 years, relations between the Catholic Church and the Italian government would remain strained. The Pope and his cardinals remained “prisoners of the Vatican” for the duration of this time, because if they placed themselves outside the walls of the Vatican, they were afforded the protection of Italian law, which served as an implicit recognition of the authority of the Italian state in Rome. Needless to say, this “Roman Question” was an awkward position for both the Catholic Church and Italy.

Ironically it was the anti-clerical fascist dictator Benito Mussolini that normalized relations between Italy and the Catholic Church. A shrewd politician, Mussolini recognized that the majority of the Italian population, Catholic in religious affiliation, wanted a reconciliation between church and state. On February 11th, 1929, the Lateran Treaty was signed by Prime Minister Benito Mussolini for King Emmanuel III and Pietro Gasparri, Cardinal Secretary of State for Pope Pius XI. Through the Lateran Treaty, the sovereign state of the Vatican City was created, free from Italian law and taxation. Catholicism was recognized as the Italian state religion, with the Church holding authority over marriage and Catholicism being taught in school. Italy also agreed to pay the Vatican City 3250000 lire per annum as an indemnity for the Church’s loss of territory and sovereignty over lands formerly part of the Papal States. Today, despite the downfall of Mussolini and Italian fascism, the Lateran Treaty remains the legal document defining the relationship between Italy and the Vatican City.

Interesting facts about the Vatican City:

  • While the Vatican has approximately 840 citizens, Vatican citizenship is only temporary (citizenship ends upon the discontinuation of residency in the Vatican).
  • St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest Catholic church in the world. The Statue of Liberty can fit underneath the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica!
  • The Vatican has its own telephone system, post office, mint, astronomical observatory, radio station, banking system, and pharmacy. In fact the sale of coins and postage stamps at the Vatican’s post office makes up a substantial portion of the state’s revenue.
  • Per capita, the Vatican has a much higher crime rate than in Italy, given the popularity of the Vatican as a tourist location.

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