Visiting Vatican City: The Headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church

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.

It is an ecclesiastical or sacerdotal-monarchical state (a type of theocracy) ruled by the pope who is, religiously speaking, the bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic Church. The highest state functionaries are all Catholic clergy of various national origins. Since the return of the popes from Avignon in 1377, they have generally resided at the Apostolic Palace within what is now Vatican City, although at times residing instead in the Quirinal Palace in Rome or elsewhere.

The Vatican City is distinct from the Holy See , which dates back to early Christianity and is the main episcopal see of 1.2 billion Latin and Eastern Catholic adherents around the globe. The independent city-state, on the other hand, 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.

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.

1. 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.

2. Sistine Chapel

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.

During the reign of Sixtus IV, a team of Renaissance painters that included Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli, created a series of frescos depicting the Life of Moses and the Life of Christ, offset by papal portraits above and trompe l’oeil drapery below. These paintings were completed in 1482, and on 15 August 1483 Sixtus IV celebrated the first mass in the Sistine Chapel for the Feast of the Assumption, at which ceremony the chapel was consecrated and dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

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.

3.Vatican Museums

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 several of the most renowned Roman 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.

There are 54 galleries, or sale, in total, with the Sistine Chapel, notably, being the very last sala within the Museum. It is one of the largest museums in the world.

 

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