Rome Travel Guide

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Vatican Walls: Where Fascism Meets Catholicism, or Letting Out the Popes

On one of our great Wall Walks (we know there are those of you who have wondered what happened to our plan to walk the perimeter of the 7th-century Aurelian Wall... yes, those posts are to come), we encountered a physical reminder of the 1929 "Conciliation" between the Italian State and the Catholic Church.  The grand double arches you see in this post are impressive evidence of the Romans' ability to use architecture and symbols to constantly remind us of their history.

In 1929, Benito Mussolini signed for the State, and Pietro Gasparri, Cardinal Secretary, for Pope Pius XII, the Lateran Pacts that resolved the question of the role of the Catholic Church within the secular Italian State - basically, the territories the Church would retain, financial reimbursement for property seized in the revolution, the Church as the State church.  That question had been pending since the "Risorgimento," or the overtaking of most of Italy by the non-Papal forces, in 1870.  And, since that time the Popes had not come out of the Vatican, a self-imposed incarceration.

The Conciliation - commemorated by Via della Conciliazione, which leads from the Tevere to St. Peter's - is also known as the Lateran Pacts, because the agreement was signed in the Lateran church: San Giovanni in Laterano.  (We had always thought they were signed in Piazza della Pigna, where there is a plaque to that effect. Perhaps Il Duce and Gasparri negotiated aspects of the Pacts in that quiet piazza, in which sits a restaurant we have frequented.)

Perhaps more interesting.
So to the Wall.  The photo above, of a double archway, shows one of the first "signs" of the Conciliation that we found on our walk.  In this case we are "inside" the Wall, inside the Vatican, that is, looking out.  On the top of the arch on the left is the coats of arms of Rome, the SPQR, and on the right, the symbol of the Pope, the Pope's hat (mitre) and St. Peter's crossed keys to the Church,  (Why the balls on the coat of arms?  See below.)  So we have the Wall, we have the exit from the Vatican, now usable by the Popes, and a symbol on each gateway representing the two sides in the power struggle.

The archway in the photo above, another exit/entrance from/to the Vatican is perhaps more interesting because it has three layers of secular and Papal symbols.  On the lower level, if one looks closely (see photo left), the State symbol has 1) the King's crown 2) the fasci, representing the Mussolini government, and 3) SPQR, the ancient Rome's government acronym, adopted by Mussolini to tie his Fascist regime to ancient Rome.

The coats of arms at the top likely are older ones that were placed here. The Papal one on the left is of the Barberini Pope (see the bees), Urban VIII (1623-44), and the State one on the right is for the King of Savoy.

Finally we leave you with the grand double archway below, looking from the outside into the Bernini colonnade.  Here the multi-layered blocks and symbols appear to have both Papal and Fascist dating. There is a reference to Pius IV (IIII), a Medici (note the balls in the coat of arms in the photo at the top of the post), who in the early 1500s built the now destroyed Porta Angelica, to welcome pilgrims from the north.  It was at Porta Angelica in 1849 that Garibaldi and his troops made their first forays into Rome to take over the city from the Popes.

So perhaps the Vatican is extracting a sense of justice.  We have a gate (think exit) built after the 1929 Conciliation to acknowledge the Vatican territory and let out the Popes for the first time in almost 60 years.  But on that gate, the Vatican has placed highly symbolic parts of the 1500s Porta Angelica, the gate where at one time (1849) anti-Papal forces forcefully challenged the rule of the Popes; and the Popes won that battle.  Garibaldi's forces won about 20 years later: 1870.  While I disagree with him, David Kertzer, in his book Prisoner of the Vatican: The Popes, the Kings, and Garibaldi's Rebels in the Struggle to Rule Modern Italytakes the position that even though Garibaldi won the battle for Rome in 1870, eventually the Popes won the war, in the sense that the Catholic Church has religious (albeit not state) dominion over more than 1 billion people.  In any event, in these grand arches and gateways, the Popes are making their point: we're still here.


1 comment:

Joan said...

Enjoyed reading this. I don't know how many times I have walked under these arches in both directions without paying attention to the symbols. I certainly will when in Rome in December/January 2015/2016
Joan Schmelzle