The Vatican

What Catholic does not dream of the moment when they first visit the Vatican?

Second only to Jerusalem and the Holy Land in terms of its significance to the Catholic faith, a visit to the Vatican is a “must-do” on any pilgrims’ travel list

The Vatican as its Own State

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The Vatican is a self-governing, semi-autonomous state within the city of Rome, Italy. It is a fully-functioning city-state; complete with citizenship, passports and diplomatic representation with 180 nations, communication and emergency services, and its own paramilitary force, the famous Swiss Guard whose members are both a ceremonial and regular security detail for the Pope.

The terms “Rome” and “the Vatican” are often interchangeable, and understandably so. The term “Roman Catholic” designates the city’s deep affiliation with the Bishop’s seat founded by St. Peter of the Twelve Apostles; the “Rock” (remember that Saint Peter’s name is Simon Peter – Petros meaning “rock” in Greek) of the disciples on whom Christ would build His Church (Matthew 16:18). 

To this day, one of the official titles of the Pope is “Patriarch in Rome” - a title in recognition of Rome’s status as one of the five original Patriarchal seats of the universal Christian church – Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Jerusalem. While the remaining four seats are now part of the Orthodox Church, the Patriarchate of Rome developed into what is today known as the Catholic Church.

Andrew Boyd, an American Catholic scholar who has long lived in Rome, counts no less than 15 churches, chapels and oratories within the Vatican; excluding private chapels for senior church hierarchs. 

St. Peter's Basilica

Among the best-known of these churches is St. Peter’s Basilica remains one of the most iconic churches in the world. The final resting place of St. Peter, it was originally built in the 4th century in a style almost identical to the Church of the Nativity of Bethlehem in the Holy Land. It was rebuilt in its present state from the 15th to the 17th century, and is a true wonder to behold. An imposing site from St. Peter’s Square, the pavilion in front of the Basilica, the present design is in the form of an elongated Latin cross, and is splendidly decorated with marble, mosaics, frescos and statuary. The creative use of light and space through the design of the dome, the tallest in the world, makes for a heavenly setting for masses and other services. Along with innumerable side-altars and chambers, the Basilica is also the final resting place of over 100 faithful servants of the Church, including 91 Popes, whom are buried in the Papal Crypt. Many of the great treasures of the Catholic Church reside within the Basilica; which albeit of tremendous importance, is not the Cathedral, as the Bishop’s seat of the Vatican is actually the Cathedral of Saint John Lateran, located a short distance away and also an extraordinary site to behold.

While we cannot highlight all of the wonders of the Vatican in this blog, the next edition will focus on another gem of the Vatican, which is the Apostolic Palace, the residence of the Pope.


To visit the Vatican during your Good Shepherd Pilgrimage to Rome and Italy, contact Tony at Tony@goodshepherdtravel.com.