The Vatican is one of the most mysterious and practically mythical places in the world. While we all have access to certain sites that the Vatican holds – the artwork, documents, and monuments; there is something about a place so devout and historic, with rooms we are not allowed into and events that transpired that the world was not privy to, that the air of mystery just stays a part of Vatican City. When there is mystery there is always piqued curiosity, so we went on the hunt for some little known facts about the Vatican.
There’s a secret passageway from the Vatican to Castel Sant’Angelo
There is a half mile in long passageway named the Passetto di Borgo, that goes from the Vatican to the old fort of Castel Sant’Angelo. The passageway is an elevated one, rather than underground, and was constructed in the year 1277. The passageway was used by popes to escape danger. The most known escape was done by Pope Clement VII in 1527 during the sack of Rome. He used the passageway to get out of the Vatican and into the fort where he would be safe. That was the assault on Rome that was done by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V who murdered members of the Church as well as the Swiss Guard en route to kill the pontiff.
Exorcisms are an actual thing
Father Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist, is said to perform over 300 exorcists a year! It is said that Pope John Paul II performed three exorcisms himself, while Pope Benedict XVI initiated an expansion of those members of the Vatican clergy who perform exorcisms. Father Amorth is also in charge of teaching how to perform exorcisms, as well as making sure bishops know the difference between a demonic possession and a metal health case. The fact that this is an actual thing makes us want to carry holy water with us everywhere.
The Vatican and the mafia were tied to each other
It’s true, the Vatican has proven ties to the Italian mafia. It was back in 1982 that the Vatican bank was proven to have financial ties with the mafia. The Vatican Bank President, Father Paul Marcinkus, resigned that year due to the scandal. The Vatican Bank had to repay creditors over $200 million! Since the Church’s embarrassing ties to organized crime in Italy, there have been no more mishaps. There are those that say that the ties between the Church and the mafia go back decades, and are the reason for Pope John Paul I’s death back in 1978.
The Vatican was officially signed into existence in 1929
Benito Mussolini was the one to sign the Vatican into existence during the 1929 Lateran Pacts. The pact ended the longtime battle between Italy and the Church. This pact was what made the Vatican the sovereign state it is today, in addition to compensating the Vatican with $92 million (the equivalent of $1 billion in today’s economy). Mussolini, who was in charge of the Italian government in 1929, signed the pact into effect on behalf of King Victor Emmanuel III.
The Swiss Guard are actually trained mercenaries
The Swiss Guard are the protectors of the pope. They are not to be confused with Vatican police, but are the pontiff’s personal body guards. The Swiss Guard does indeed dress in a very funny (almost ridiculous) manner, but don’t be fooled – they are highly skilled trained mercenaries that know the art of old weapons as well as modern ones. The Guards are dressed in Renaissance style uniforms, are Swiss nationals, and number is the mid-hundreds.
The Vatican is the smallest country in the world
The Vatican is the smallest country in the world, spreading out over 100 acres and a 2 mile border surrounding. To give you a comparison – Vatican City is one-eighth of New York City’s Central Park! While it may be the smallest country in the world, it still has everything any country would have – flag, anthem, post office, and currency. The revenue from the Vatican museum and sites are what pump funds into the small economy.
The Vatican consumes more wine than any other place in the world
On the one hand the fact that the population of the Vatican consumes more wine per capita doesn’t surprise us, due to the fact of sacramental wine and all that, but on the other hand, how much of this wine are they drinking? In fact, the average person drinks an average of 54 liters of wine a year! According to those interested in this fact, the reason for the large number of liters being consumed does indeed have to do with the communion wine.
The Holy Office put Galileo under house arrest
Poor Galileo was put under house arrest by the Holy See until Galileo’s death in 1642. He was put under house arrest for his outlandish thinking in regards to his views on gravity, and earth and its place in the universe – the fact that he believed that the earth was NOT the center of the universe. It was not until 1992 that the Vatican made a formal announcement of their error.
Vatican City has their own version of the Euro
In the year 2000, Italy signed and agreement with the Vatican, allowing them to use the Euro as their official currency and create their own Euro coin as of 2002. These days you can find a Vatican Euro around Italy as well, since they are accepted everywhere. In fact, you could find yourself holding a Vatican Euro anywhere within the Eurozone. The latest coin is the 2014 Euro with the image of Pope Francis on it.
The Vatican has the highest crime rate
You would think that within the borders of the most holy country on earth, crime would not exist; you would be very wrong. The Vatican actually has the highest crime rate in the world. What the statistics show is that the Vatican has more crime per capita – approximately 140 crimes a year. That may not sound like much, but considering the population is just over 800, with most of the citizens living outside of the Vatican borders, that is an exceptionally high rate.
Vatican City won’t stamp your passport
Sadly, if you are crossing over from Italy to the Vatican, you are not going to be getting your passport stamped accordingly. While we do not know the reason behind this, and despite the fact that the Vatican is indeed a country and crossing over means you are in entirely new jurisdiction, the border officials do not stamps passports upon entry or departure, not even for a fee. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a stamp from the Vatican though?!
Vatican City does not have divorce laws
The Vatican does not have divorce laws within its borders. The only laws within Vatican City in regards to such matters are annulment laws of marriages under certain circumstances. This isn’t very surprising considering divorce is essentially a non-issue in Catholicism, and the Church does not recognize the act of divorce within its ranks of followers. The only other country that does not have divorce laws is the Philippines, which is also a predominantly Catholic country.
The Vatican has the best post office around
The Vatican has all of the services that a regular country would possess. Their postal service for example, is one of the best in the world. The Vatican sends out more letters each year than any other postal code in the world. There are even those Italian citizens who live in Rome who specifically go to the Vatican to send out their packages and such because they know the service is superior than the Italian postal system. The Vatican postal service has functioned since 1929 and holds its own postage stamps.
The Vatican owns the largest telescope in the world
The Vatican has its eyes to the heavens, literally. The Vatican owns the largest telescope in the world, based in Arizona, USA. The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT), is run by the Vatican Observatory, the research sector of the Holy See. The telescope is 1.8 meters in length and is capable of extremely advanced views into space. This was the Vatican’s way of moving closer to the scientific sector, slowly melding science and religion.
The Vatican installed 7,000 LED lights to illuminate the Sistine Chapel
In order for those visiting the Vatican, and more specifically, the Sistine Chapel, see the incredible artistry in Michelangelo’s ceiling work of art, the Vatican installed 7,000 LED lights to illuminate the ceiling in the best possible way. It was thanks to the lights that the ceiling is seen more easily and the artwork displayed in a more respectful way. The lights made the ceiling more visible than it was back when the chapel was lit by the sun during the day.
Vatican City has a population of 800 people
Vatican City’s population is made up of those who work at and for the Vatican – clergy and the Swiss Guard. Those who work in the Vatican’s sites are Italian citizens who come into the Vatican on a daily basis for work. While there are 800 people living in Vatican City, only around 570 of them are Vatican citizens and of that number there are around 350 who do not reside in the Vatican but are rather Vatican citizens who are spread globally in diplomatic status.
The Vatican Museums contain one of the largest art collections in the world
The Vatican Museums contain extremely old and important pieces of art that are kept under special conditions and monitored tightly. What makes the Vatican Museums’ art collection so incredible is that it holds not only some of the most important pieces, but it has the largest collection in the world. There is more than 9 miles of artwork, 1,400 rooms, galleries and chapels throughout the Vatican Museums and Palace.
Pope Benedict XVI was granted immunity by president George W. Bush
In a case of American and Vatican power relations, a few years back, Pope Benedict XVI was accused of covering up sexual assault within the Catholic ranks in the United States. It was at that time that Pope Benedict XVI asked the president at the time, George W. Bush, for immunity in the case so that he would not be prosecuted. POTUS indeed granted the pope immunity, having the charges against him dropped.
Not one citizen of Vatican City has been born there
In order to get citizenship to the Vatican, you have to work in the Vatican. There are no births within Vatican borders, especially considering that there are no hospitals in Vatican City. Those cardinals or bishops who work in the Vatican but live in Rome, are also considered Vatican citizens. This is the only country in the world that operates in this form, also because the country is the most religious in the world.
St. Peter is buried right beneath St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter is buried directly under the altar of St. Peter’s within the basilica of the same name. The baldacchino, also known as the center altar is located inside the church and is right atop where St. Peter is buried. St. Peter was the first pope and leader of the Catholic Church. The altar stands at an astonishing 96 feet high and is made entirely of bronze that has been stripped from ancient Roman sites. The only person allowed to pray at the altar is the pope himself.
The Caligula obelisk was brought from Egypt
The Roman Emperor, Caligula, built a small area at the base of Vatican Hill. He requested that his forces go to Egypt and bring to the Vatican a pylon that was originally based in Heliopolis. The stunning obelisk, made from one huge piece of red granite, dated 3,000 years before Caligula, and weighs in at around 350 tons, was brought over as per Caligula’s request in 1586, and stands in the center of St. Peter’s Square. The obelisk is also a sundial.
Pope Benedict XVI’s butler was caught trying to steal important church documents
In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI’s own butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested and convicted by the Vatican court for having confidential Church documents in his possession without permission. The documents in question were letters and documents of a personal and confidential nature that were given to Gianluigi Nuzzi, an Italian journalist. Gabriele was sentenced to 18 months in jail for his crime. You just can’t trust anyone these days, can you?
The Vatican has its own soccer team
In 1972, the Vatican City football association was founded. It was in the year 2000 that Pope John Paul II created the Vatican sports department with the goal of “invigorating the tradition within the Christian community.” The team is not a member of FIFA, Fédération Internationale de Football Association. The team has only won one game since its inception, but has played with rivals such as Monaco and SV Vollmond.
Pope John Paul II was the target of an assassination attempt
In 1981, while Pope John Paul II was walking into St. Peter’s Square, he was shot and hurt by a man named, Mehmet Ali Agca. The pope was wounded by four shots and lost a significant amount of blood. Luckily he was not killed as he was immediately taken to care. Mehmet was sentenced to life in prison but was later pardoned by the pope and the the Italian president at the pope’s request. This is the reason the pope now travels in a bullet proof car.
St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest Catholic church in the world
When we say that St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest Catholic church in the world, we mean that literally. The church is so large that it can have another basilica fit within it’s walls, as well as have an entire football game played within, in addition to being tall enough to hold a space ship where the alter stands. All in all, what we mean to say, and what the Church meant to make a point of – this church is huge, and there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world.
Vatican City has more tourists per resident than any other country
This one is easy since there are not very many residents in the Vatican, making the tourist per resident ratio astronomical. Due to the fact that the Vatican is the Catholic center of the world, containing within its walls ancient relics, religious and historical sites, and the seat of the pontiff himself – there are huge numbers of tourists that grace the Vatican borders every year. The museums within the Vatican welcome more than 5.5 million people a year.
The Vatican is digitizing its library
In 2013, Digita Vaticana Onlus, a non-profit organization, began to digitize the Vatican Library’s manuscripts. This initiative is funded entirely on donations but is approved by the Vatican. The goal is to digitize more than 80,000 documents that are currently in the Vatican Library. The process is a slow and delicate one, as the documents in the library date back centuries and are in very delicate condition, meaning that handling them is done with great care and attention to detail.
The Vatican has the shortest railway in the world
Since the Vatican is the smallest country in the world, it makes sense that they would also be the possessors of the shortest railway in the world. The shortest railway is just 300 meters in length. They have one station (obviously), called, Cittá del Vaticano, and a two car train. The railway rarely takes people on board, but is mainly used for importing of goods and for symbolic events. The train itself is made of wood and iron, and can be seen stationed in the city.
The commander of the Swiss Guard was killed in his apartment in 1998
As we mentioned earlier, the Swiss Guard are the protector of the pope and are themselves highly skilled fighters. That being said, that doesn’t mean they are invincible. In 1998, the commander of the Swiss Guard was found murdered in his apartment along with his wife. The official story from the Vatican was that it was a disgruntled co-guardsman who killed the commander and his wife and then turned the gun on himself. There are others though who say that it was the commander’s lover who shot the two.
The Vatican archives hold letters from King Henry VIII asking for a divorce
The Vatican archives can be accessed by many people, and in them you will find 1,000 years worth of correspondences between the pope and a third party. The only issue is that you need to know exactly where the letter you are looking for is located as there is a strict no browsing policy. In this archive is the letter King Henry VIII sent to Pope Clement VII when he wanted to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. Juicy stuff.
Vatican City is the only UNESCO listing in the form of a whole country
There are many UNSECO World Heritage Sites around the world and within Italy as well. However, what makes Vatican City unique on the list is the fact that it is the only listing on UNESCO that has an entire country as a site. The reason for this is obvious, with every inch of the country holding a historic and religious relic, not to mention that the Vatican is essentially the home of the pontiff and head of the Catholic Church.