The 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia wrote, "The territory on the right
bank of the Tiber between Monte Mario and Gianicolo (Janiculum) was known
to antiquity as the Ager Vaticanus, and, owing to its marshy character,
the low-lying portion of this district enjoyed an ill repute. The origin
of the name Vaticanus is uncertain; some claim that the name comes from
a vanished Etruscan town called Vaticum. This district did not belong to
ancient Rome, nor was it included within the city walls built by Emperor
Aurelian. In the imperial gardens situated in this section was the Circus
of Nero. At the foot of the Vatican Hill lay the ancient Basilica of St.
Peter. By extensive purchases of land the medieval popes acquired possession
of the whole hill, thus preparing the way for building activity. Communication
with the city was established by the Pons Ælius, which led directly
to the mausoleum of Hadrian. Between 848 and 852 Leo IV surrounded the
whole settlement with a wall, which included it within the city boundaries.
Until the pontificate of Sixtus V this section of Rome remained a private
papal possession and was entrusted to a special administration. Sixtus,
however, placed it under the jurisdiction of the urban authorities as the
The Holy See's diplomatic history began in the fourth century, but the
boundaries of the papacy's temporal power have shifted over the centuries.
From the 8th century throughl the middle of the 19th century, the Popes
held sway over the Papal States, which included a broad band of territory
across central Italy. In 1860, after prolonged civil and regional unrest,
Victor Emmanuel's army seized the Papal States, leaving only Rome and surrounding
coastal regions under papal control.
In 1870, Victor Emmanuel captured Rome itself and declared it the new
capital of Italy, ending papal claims to temporal power. Pope Pius IX and
his successors disputed the legitimacy of these acts and proclaimed themselves
to be "prisoners" in the Vatican. Finally, in 1929, the Italian Government
and the Holy See signed three agreements resolving the dispute:
1. A treaty recognizing the independence and sovereignty of the Holy
See and creating the State of the Vatican City;
2. A concordat defining the relations between the government and the
church within Italy; and
3. A financial convention providing the Holy See with compensation for
its losses in 1870.
A revised concordat, altering the terms of church-state relations, was
signed in 1984.
The term "Holy See" refers to the composite of the authority, jurisdiction,
and sovereignty vested in the Pope and his advisers to direct the worldwide
Roman Catholic Church. As the "central government" of the Roman Catholic
Church, the Holy See has a legal personality that allows it to enter into
treaties as the juridical equal of a state and to send and receive diplomatic
representatives. The Holy See has formal diplomatic relations with 174
nations, including the United States and many predominantly Muslim countries.
The Holy See also maintains relations of a special nature with the Russian
Federation and the Organization for the Liberation of Palestine.
Created in 1929 to provide a territorial identity for the Holy See in
Rome, the State of the Vatican City is a recognized national territory
under international law. The Holy See, however, enters into international
agreements and receives and sends diplomatic representatives.
Pope John Paul II died in April 2005 after a 26 year reign. He
was followed by the current Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI.
Vatican History Bibliography