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A prisoner in the Vatican or prisoner of the Vatican ( ) is how Pope Pius IX described himself following the capture of Romemarker by the armed forces of the Kingdom of Italy on 20 September 1870. Part of the process of Italian unification, the city's capture ended the millennial temporal rule of the popes over central Italymarker and allowed Rome to be designated the capital of the new nation. The appellation is also applied to Pius's successors through Pius XI.

As nationalism swept the Italian peninsula in the 19th century, efforts to unify Italy were blocked in part by the Papal Statesmarker, which ran through the middle of the peninsula and included the ancient capital of Rome. The Papal States were able to fend off efforts to conquer them largely through the pope's influence over the leaders of stronger European powers such as Francemarker and Austriamarker. When Rome was eventually taken, the Italian government reportedly intended to let the pope keep that part of Rome, west of the Tiber, called the Leonine Citymarker as a small remaining Papal State, but Pius IX refused. One week after entering Rome, the Italian troops had taken the entire city save for the Apostolic Palacemarker; the inhabitants of the city then voted to join Italy.

For the next 59 years, the popes refused to leave the Vatican in order to avoid any appearance of accepting the authority wielded by the Italian government over Rome as a whole. During this period, popes also refused to appear at Saint Peter's Squaremarker or at the balcony of the Vatican Basilica facing it, as the square in front of the Basilica was occupied by the Italian troops. During this period, popes granted the "Urbi et Orbi" blessings from a balcony facing a courtyard, or from inside the Basilica, and Papal Coronations were instead held at the Sistine Chapel. The period ended in 1929, when the Lateran Treaty created the modern state of Vatican Citymarker.

Law of Guarantees

The 13 May 1871 Italian Law of Guarantees, passed eight months after the capture of Rome, was an attempt to solve the problem by making the pope a subject of the Kingdom of Italy, not an independent sovereign, while guaranteeing him certain honors similar to those given to the king and the right to send and receive ambassadors.

The popes – Pius IX (died 1878) and his successors Leo XIII (reigned 1878–1903), St Pius X (1903–1914), Benedict XV (1914–1922) and (from 1922 until the issue was resolved in 1929) Pius XI – refused to accept this unilateral decision, which, they felt, could be reversed by the same power that granted it, and which did not ensure that their decisions would be clearly seen to be free from interference by a political power. They claimed that total sovereignty was needed so that a civil government would never attempt to interfere in the governance of the universal Roman Church. Therefore, even after the Law of Guarantees, Pope Pius IX and his successors up to and including Pius XI decided not to leave the Palace of the Vatican, so as not to submit to the authority of the Italian State. As a result of the crisis, Pope Pius IX excommunicated the King of Italy.

Especially in the strongly Roman catholic rural areas of Italy, there was great tension between Church and State. The newly unified Kingdom of Italy did not recognize the validity of Church weddings, while the Church maintained that the Kingdom was illegitimate and Church weddings were sufficient before God.

Roman Question

Following the fall of Rome, most countries continued to accredit diplomatic representatives to the Holy See, seeing it as an entity of public international law with which they desired such relations, while they withdrew their consuls, whose work had been connected instead with the temporal power of the papacy, which was now ended. However, no diplomatic relations existed between the Holy See and the Italian state.

According to Jasper Ridley, at the 1867 Congress of Peace in Geneva, Garibaldi referred to "that pestilential institution which is called the Papacy" and proposed giving "the final blow to the monster". This was a reflection of the bitterness that had been generated by the struggle against Pope Pius IX in 1849 and 1860, and it was in sharp contrast to the letter that Garibaldi had written to the pope from Montevideo in 1847, before those events.

The stand-off was ended on 11 February 1929, when the Lateran Pacts created a new microstate, that of Vatican Citymarker, and opened the way for diplomatic relations between Italy and the Holy See. The Holy See in turn recognized the Kingdom of Italy, with Rome as its capital, thus ending the situation whereby the Popes had felt constrained to remain within the Vatican. They were once again able to visit their cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateranmarker, situated on the opposite side of the city of Rome, and to travel regularly to their summer residence at Castel Gandolfomarker, 30 km from Rome.

See also


  1. Kertzer, p. 45.
  2. Kertzer, p. 63.
  3. Garibaldi, Viking Press, New York (1976) p. 576–77


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