Skip to content
Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

The Vatican

Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes

This subject will be treated under the following heads:

I. Introduction;
II. Architectural History of the Vatican Palace;
III. Description of the Palace;
IV. Description of the Gardens;
V. The Chapels of the Vatican;
VI. The Palace as a Place of Residence;
VII. The Palace as a Treasury of Art;
VIII. The Palace as a Scientific Institute;
IX. The State-Halls of the Vatican;
X. The State Staircases of the Vatican;
XI. The Administrative Boards of the Vatican;
XII. The Juridical and Hygienic Boards of the Vatican;
XIII. The Policing of the Vatican;
XIV. The Vatican as a Business Centre;
XV. The Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana;
XVI. The Legal Position of the Vatican.

Inasmuch as by this disposition of the subject analogous things may be treated together regardless of their various locations in the Palace, this has an advantage over others which follow a topographical and historical method.


The territory on the right bank of the Tiber between Monte Mario and Gianicolo (Janiculum) was known to antiquity as the Ager Vaticanus, and, owing to its marshy character, the low-lying portion of this district enjoyed an ill repute. The origin of the name Vaticanus is uncertain; some claim that the name comes from a vanished Etruscan town called Vaticum. This district did not belong to ancient Rome, nor was it included within the city walls built by Emperor Aurelian. In the imperial gardens situated in this section was the Circus of Nero. At the foot of the Vatican Hill lay the ancient Basilica of St. Peter. By extensive purchases of land the medieval popes acquired possession of the whole hill, thus preparing the way for building activity. Communication with the city was established by the Pons Ælius, which led directly to the mausoleum of Hadrian. Between 848 and 852 Leo IV surrounded the whole settlement with a wall, which included it within the city boundaries. Until the pontificate of Sixtus V this section of Rome remained a private papal possession and was entrusted to a special administration. Sixtus, however, placed it under the jurisdiction of the urban authorities as the fourteenth region.

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >


It is certain that Pope Symmachus (498-514) built a residence to the right and left of St. Peter's and immediately contiguous to it. There was probably a former residence, since, from the very beginning, the popes must have found a house of accommodation necessary in the vicinity of so prominent a basilica as St. Peter's. By the end of the thirteenth century the building activity of Eugene III, Alexander III, and Innocent III had developed the residence of Symmachus into a palatium which lay between the portico of St. Peter's and the Vatican Hill. Nicholas III began building on the Vatican Hill a palace of extraordinary dimensions, which was completed by his immediate successors. He also secured land for the Vatican Gardens. The group of buildings then erected correspond more or less with the ancient portions of the present palace which extend around the Cortile del Maresciallo and the eastern, southern, and western sides of the Cortile del Papagallo. These buildings were scarcely finished or fitted when the popes moved to Avignon and from 1305 to 1377 no pope resided permanently in the Vatican Palace. Urban V spent a short time in Rome, and Gregory XI died there. When Urban V resolved to return to Rome, the Lateran Palace having been destroyed by fire, the ordinary papal residence was fixed at the Vatican. The apartments, roofs, gardens, and chapels of the Vatican Palace had to be entirely overhauled, so grievous had been the decay and ruin into which the buildings had fallen within sixty years ( see Kirsch, "Die Rüchkehr der Päpste Urban V. u. Gregor. XI.", Paderborn, 1908). The funds devoted to the repairs of the Vatican during the residence at Avignon had been entirely inadequate.

Urban VI (1378) and his successors restored to the palace a degree of comfort as a place of residence, so that, when Martin V came from Constance to Rome (28 September, 1420), little remained to be undertaken except some rearrangement of the apartments. Nicholas V erected buildings on the east and north sides of the Cortile del Papagallo, on the spot where the Loggia of Raphael and the Appartamento Borgia and the Stanze stand today. Alexander added to the Palace of Nicholas V the Torre Borgia, which bears his name. Pius II and Paul II beautified the buildings of the south aide, and Innocent VIII effected such alterations in the old palace in the portico of St. Peter's at the foot of the hill that it was henceforth known as the Palazzo di Innocenzo VIII. Directly south, in the direction of Sant' Angelo, Nicholas V erected a mighty bastion (called the Torrione di Niccolò V), running down from the summit of the hill to Sant' Angelo. The space mounting the hill in a northerly direction was enclosed by a wall and served as a garden ( viridarium, vigna ). At a distance of about 700 metres from the palace, Innocent VIII erected a fairly large villa, which may be seen today, and which was remodelled by Clement XIV and Pius VI into one of the most stately portions of the museum of sculpture. Sixtus IV, who dwelt in the apartments of the Cortile del Papagallo, made important alterations in the rooms of the ground floor to accommodate there the Bibliotheca Palatina.

FREE Learning Resources - Download Today - Printable PDF's

The wing to the south (Galleria delle inscrizioni and Museo Chiaramonti) was built by Julius II ; the northern wing (picture-gallery and library ), by Pius IV. A little later both wings were fully developed into their present form. The large Loggia ( il gran nicchione ) near the villa of Innocent VIII was erected by Pius IV. Pius V erected the apartments to the north of the Torre Borgia, and built the three chapels, situated one over the other, in the western portion of the northern wing. One of these chapels is attached to the library (that on the ground floor) and one to the picture-gallery on the second floor. Pius V and his successor Gregory XIII extended the palace by the construction of the wing running southwards to the Torrione. The present papal palace was begun by Sixtus V and completed by his successors, Urban VII, Innocent XI, and Clement VIII.

The buildings extending along the southern slope of the hill to Piazza S. Pietro, occupied today by the maestro di camera and the majordomo, were erected by Julius III, and completed under Pius IX with the construction of the magnificent Scala Pia. The buildings branching off from the northern wing toward the gardens, in the vicinity of the chapels of Pius V , were built by Paul V. Sixtus V established connection between the two longitudinal wings of the palace by erecting in the middle the Salone Sistino, in which he housed the library. A second transverse building, constructed by Pius VII in the eastern court, contains the Braccio Nuovo, one section of the museum of sculpture. All the other museum buildings at the eastern end of the palace were erected or remodelled by Pius VI and Pius VII. The casino constructed by Leo XIII on one of the towers of Leo IV in the gardens now serves as the Vatican Observatory. This broad sketch of the architectural history of the Vatican and the following description of the various edifices will afford a fairly exact idea of the gradual growth of this vast collection of buildings.


The Vatican Palace is situated on the eastern sections of the Vatican Hill. Behind it rises the summit of the hill with the gardens; at the highest points may still be seen the only remains of the Leonine Wall with its two mighty towers. The palace is approached by the road leading around St. Peter's and by the Scala Pia, which extends from the Portone di Bronzo to the Court of St. Damasus. The covered way which leads from the Cortile di Belvedere to the Cortile della Sentinella and thence to the exit door situated at the back of the palace is used only for official purposes. From the Portone di Bronzo downwards run the powerful buttresses of the palace around the eastern and northern sides of the hill as far as the Galleria Lapidaria (Corridoio delle Iscrizioni). These buttresses are interrupted by the Torrione, which was formerly of great strategic importance and now serves as a magazine. At the rear of the Cortile del Forno is the entrance to the Nicchione and the museum buildings, which are the most elevated portions of the palace.

We ask you, humbly: don't scroll away.

Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you.

Help Now >

From the cupola of St. Peter's may be seen the whole collection of buildings included under the name of Vatican Palace, a long stretch of edifices with many courts, ending in a row of smaller connected buildings before which stands a great loggia, known as the Nicchione. To the right and left of the loggia and at right angles to it are two narrow buildings, which are connected transversely by the Braccio Nuovo at a distance of 328 feet from the loggia. These four buildings enclose the Giardino della Pigna, so called because in the loggia stands a gigantic pine-cone of bronze, preserved from old St. Peter's. Except the few unsightly buildings lying immediately to the left, all the buildings behind the loggia are given over to the museum -- especially to sculptures and to the Egyptian and Etruscan museums. In the longitudinal wing to the left are accommodated a portion of the library, the Galleria dei Candelabri, and Raphael's tapestries ; the right wing forms the Museo Chiaramonti, while the transverse building, or Braccio Nuovo, also belongs to the museum of sculpture. After the Giardino della Pigna succeeds the Cortile della Stamperia, a narrow building deriving its name from the fact that it served as the seat of the Vatican Press (founded by Sixtus V ) until 1909. At the back of this court stands the Braccio Nuovo; to the left lie the library, the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche, and the Torre dei Quattro Venti; to the right the library and the Galleria Lapidaria; and in the transverse building in front the Library. The third huge court, Cortile di Belvedere, lies on a much lower level in an exact line with the other two. At the rear and to the left is the library, to the right the Galleria Lapidaria, and in the transverse wing in front the Appartemento Borgia, the Stanze of Raphael, and the Museum of Modern Paintings.

Between these long stretches of the palaces with the three courts and the Basilica of St. Peter lie a large number of courts, surrounded in a somewhat irregular fashion by a group of buildings of which we shall mention the most important. The Sistine Chapel to the extreme left adjoins the Cortile della Sentinella, and the Cortile del Portoncino; opposite to this ends the left wing of the library. To the right from the chapel is the Sala, Regia, beyond which, extending towards St. Peter's, is the Cappella Paolina. Running somewhat obliquely from the Sala Regia is the Sala Ducale, which, with the Stanze di Raffaello and the Appartamento Borgia, encloses the Cortile del Papagallo on the north and south sides. The eastern side of this court is bordered by the group of buildings containing the Camere dei Paramenti (with the Loggie di Giovanni da Udine extending in front) and the Cappella di Niccolo V (one story higher), situated before which is the Loggie di Raffaello. The above-mentioned loggie form the western side of the Cortile di San Damaso; the northern side is also composed of loggie, behind which, on the second floor, is the Sala Matilde and on the third a portion of the old picture-gallery. The eastern side of the loggie stands in front of that portion of the palace occupied by the pope and the secretary of state. There are some lesser courts on the east side.

Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

The exterior of the palace presents an imposing ensemble. Architectonic decorativeness is found nowhere. Extreme simplicity characterizes the exterior walls. According as necessity dictated, æsthetic effect being little considered, new buildings and annexes were erected, roofs raised, external passages laid out, lofty halls divided horizontally and pierced for the upper~half of windows which disfigure the lines of the buildings. Those who seek for uniformity find much to censure in the palace, but the general effect, viewed from an historical standpoint, is most pleasing. The Cortile di San Damaso, the view towards St. Peter's of graceful arcades opening out before the staircase leading to the Sala Regia by the Portal of Paul II, the lofty entrance door to the library of Sixtus IV, in the Cortile del Papagallo, the Cortili del Portoncino and della Sentinella are all magnificent. The Portone della Sentinella leads to the Cortile di Belvedere, decorated with a beautiful fountain. The view to the right from the windows and galleries of the Appartemento Borgia and the Stanze di Raffaello is admirable. An added story replaced the turret of the Palace of Nicholas V ; the adjacent Torre Borgia has lost its ancient windows, its roof thereby losing the character of a tower. Above the transverse wing is the Torre dei Quattro Venti, where was the Specola Gregoriana, the observatory dating from the days of Gregory XIII, with its paintings by the Zuccari.

The Giardino della Pigna, lying to the north, is beautifully laid out. In the centre of the court has stood since 1886, mounted on a marble column, a bronze statue of St. Peter, in commemoration of the Vatican Council of 1870 ; numerous fragments of statues and reliefs are artistically placed standing or flat along the walls. The quarters of the Swiss Guards on the east side consist of two narrow parallel buildings, which, with the Sistine Palace and the Torrione di Niccolò V, form two courts. The inner court is adjacent to the palace, in the other is a gate leading directly to the city by the colonnades. Beyond this gate is the covered passage from the palace to Sant' Angelo, now walled up at the point where it leaves the Vatican territory. A tablet and Inscription and a large coat of arms give evidence that Alexander VI initiated here extensive works of improvement and decoration. In the immediate vicinity of the Torrione di Niccolò V earlier lay the Cavallerizza, the riding ground for the Noble Guard. Between this building and the quarters of the Swiss Guards is another gate leading to the town. The Cavallerizza was entirely reconstructed three years ago to accommodate the Stamperia Segreta (the private press of the Vatican) and the Tipografia Vaticana. On this occasion Pius X introduced extensive reforms in the printing, bringing it to the highest level attained by modern technic. North of the printing offices and parallel to the eastern longitudinal wing of the palace is the huge house which Pius X reconstructed for the married officials and the servants of the palace. It is solidly built, conveniently divided and fitted with the best sanitary requirements.

15% OFF for Christmas

The palace forms a special parish, the administration of which is entrusted to the Monsignor Sagrista, sacristan of the pope, assisted by the sottosagrista, who has charge of all the vestments and vessels used in the five chapels of the palace. The chaplain of the Swiss Guards attends to the vestments of their chapel. The Cappella Paolina is regarded as the parish church, and is thus one of the churches of Rome where the Forty Hours' Adoration is inaugurated at the beginning of each ecclesiastical year. By the Bull, "Ad sacram ordinis", of 15 October, 1497, the ancient custom of selecting the Prefect of the Apostolic Chapel (the sagrista) from the Augustinian Order was given a legal foundation. The sagrista is Titular Bishop of Porphyreon, assistant at the throne, and domestic prelate, and before 1870 was pastor of the Vatican Palace, of the Quirinal, and of the Lateran. The Quirinal was provisionally attached in 1870 to the parish of SS. Vincenzo ed Anastasio, and in the Lateran the sagrista was represented in parochial affairs by the pastor of the basilica. In addition to other privileges the sagrista has the right of administering Extreme Unction to the dying pope. Since the reign of Pius IV he is an ex-officio member of the Conclave. Although, as a bishop, the sagrista enjoys the use of the rochet, he wears it only in very exceptional cases, always wearing the mozzetta over the manteletta. His appointment is for life, so that he is not affected by a change of pontificate.


Enclosed between the city walls, the zecca (the mint) with the adjacent houses, and the Viale del Museo, lie the Vatican Gardens, or Boscareccio, into which visitors are admitted only with the special permission of the sub-Prefect of the Vatican Palace. They are reached through the museum entrance on the western side of the palace. To the left of the entrance below is the English Garden, in which the palma grande (the tallest palm in Rome ) and fine citron and orange trees grow under a protecting roof. At the end of the broad path to the right is a walk, bordered by boxwood trees fifteen to twenty feet high, which leads between oaks and ilex trees up the hill on which stands the Casino of Leo XIII, resting on one of the huge towers of the Leonine Wall ( see VATICAN OBSERVATORY ). The pavilion, to the right of the Casino, is on a level with the roof of St. Peter's . In this section of the garden vineries have been laid out, and vegetables are cultivated. Before the first Leonine tower a terrace affords a wide view across the Valle dell' Inferno, from whose ancient brick-works half of Rome has been built. To the left of the tower is an oak grove where wild flowers grow. Ancient fragments of marble are strewn everywhere, the paths are kept in entirely rural fashion, so that this small grove forms an especially enchanting portion of the gardens. One of the rough walks leads to the Fontana di Paolo Quinto, which is fed with water from the Lago di Bracciano. The arms of the Borghese proclaims it the work of Paul V . In the immediate vicinity are the barracks of the papal gendarmes entrusted with the guarding of the gardens. A few hundred feet below is the Fontana del Santissimo Sacramento, a fountain so called because in the centre stands a monstrance whose rays are formed by the water; on either side rise three vertical streams of water, which represent the candles. A path bordered by boxwood leads to the court of the Casino of Pius IV, a double building erected by Pirro Ligorio in 1560, with walls decorated with flint mosaic work. Women were there received in audience until they were allowed admission to the papal apartments by Pius IX. Thousands of artistic addresses received by Pius IX, Leo XIII, and Pius X have been transferred from the library to this Casino, where they are now preserved (cf. Bouchet, "La Villa Pia des Jardins du Vatican, architecture de Pirro Ligorio", Paris, 1837). The paintings in the Casino are by Baroccio, Federigo Zuccaro, and Santi di Titi. Immediately before the casino opens the subterranean passage which Pius X had constructed so that he might pass with as little inconvenience as possible from the palace to the gardens. The appearance of the surrounding park has been altered by excavations, but the trees have been untouched. The distribution of numerous species of trees and flowering shrubs makes this portion of the gardens very picturesque. The stretch of the gardens to the right of the entrance consists of a thick, magnificent alley of ilex trees, in which some cages may still be seen; these formerly sheltered ibexes and other animals. The view from here towards Monte Mario over the circular fountains, and to the right towards the Prati di Castello with Soracte in the background, is admirable. Scattered around the garden are four other cages for animals, which contained until a few years ago the lions presented to the pope by King Menelik, and also ostriches, gazelles, and a number of species of poultry. All these animals have died, have been given away, or sold, since their maintenance and care demanded too much attention. The Vatican Gardens are the only place in which the pope can take exercise in the open air. (Cf. Friedlander, "Das Kasino Pius des Vierten. Kunstgeschichtliche Forschungen", ed. Royal Prussian Historical Institute, III, Leipzig, 1912; Donovan, "Rome, Ancient and Modern, and its Environs", II, Rome, 1844.)


In the papal palace there are a large number of chapels which serve various purposes. By far the largest and the most famous of these is the Sistine Chapel.

A. The Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel is the palatine and court chapel, where all papal ceremonies and functions and papal elections are held. It was built between 1473 and 1481 by Giovanni de' Dolci at the commission of Sixtus IV. In length 133 feet and in breadth 46, it has at each side six stained-glass windows, given by the Prince Regent Leopold of Bavaria in 1911. The lower third of the chapel is separated from the rest by beautiful marble barriers, which divide the space reserved for invited visitors on the occasion of great solemnities from that reserved for the pope, the cardinals, and the papal family. On the wall to the right is the box for the singers of the famous Sistine Choir . The marble barriers and the balustrade of the box are by Mino da Fiesole and his assistants.

The rear wall of the chapel is now without a window, being broken only by a small door on the right, which leads to the sacristy of the chapel. Almost the whole of this space is occupied by the painting of the Last Judgment ( see MICHELANGELO BUONARROTTI ). The frescoes on the side walls were executed between 1481 and 1483 by Florentine and Umbrian masters. On the left side are given, as the prototypes, scenes from the life of Moses, and on the right scenes from the life of Christ -- beginning in both cases from the high altar and meeting at the entrance door. Perugino, Pinturicchio, Botticelli, Pier di Cosimo, Rosselli, Signorelli, della Gatta, Ghirlandajo, and Salviati were the collaborators in the wonderful cycle of paintings. Fiammingo, Matteo da Lecce, and Diamante are also here immortalized. Some years ago the ceiling frescoes by Michelangelo were thoroughly cleansed by Ludwig Seitz, and all the plasterwork blisters which by falling away threatened to work irremediable damage to the paintings, were again skilfully fastened to the masonry. To lessen the effect on the paintings caused by any great change of temperature, Leo XIII installed in the chapel a system of central heating which prevents the walls from becoming icy cold in winter. ( See Steinmann "Die Sixtinische Kapelle", 2 vols. and atlas, Munich, 1900-05.)

B. The Cappella Paolina

The Cappella Paolina, which serves as the parish church of the Vatican, is separated from the Sistine Chapel only by the Sala Regia. It received its name from Paul III, who had it erected in 1540 by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger. Before 1550 Michelangelo painted two frescoes here, the Conversion of Paul and the Crucifixion of Peter. Other paintings in the chapel are by Lorenzo Sabbatini and Federico Zuccaro. The statues in the background are by P. Bresciano. Before the opening of the conclave the Sacred College assembles in this chapel to attend a sermon in which the members are reminded of their obligation quickly to give to the Church her ablest son as ruler and guide. The cardinals then withdraw to the Sistine Chapel. In the Cappella Paolina are sung daily the conclave Solemn Masses "De Spiritu Sancto", at which all members of the conclave must be present.

C. The Chapel of Nicholas V

While the two above-named chapels are situated on the first floor of the palace, which bounds the Cortile di San Damaso, the Chapel of Nicholas V ( chapel of San Lorenzo) lies on the second floor in the immediate vicinity of the Stanze and Loggie of Raphael. Built by Nicholas V, the chapel was adorned (1450-55) by Fra Angelico with frescoes, depicting chiefly scenes from the lives of Sts. Laurence and Stephen. This wonderful series of paintings is Angelico's greatest work.

D. The Pope's Private Chapel

In the reception rooms of the pope, between the Sala degli Arazzi and the Sala del Trono, lies a smaller room, from which a door leads to the private chapel of the pope, where the Blessed Sacrament is always reserved. Here the pope usually celebrates his Mass, and hither are invited those who are accorded the privilege of receiving Communion from his hand. The lay members of the papal family usually make their Easter Communion in this chapel on the Monday in Holy Week ; the prelates of Rome make theirs on Holy Thursday. On both these occasions the pope celebrates. After Mass all are entertained at breakfast in the Sala dei Paramenti, the majordomo representing the pope as host.

E. Cappella della Sala Matilde

On days when a larger number of strangers are admitted to assist at the pope's Mass, the Holy Father uses the Cappella della Sala Matilde, a simple but tastefully decorated chapel which Pius X had erected in the Sala Matilde on the second floor in the middle building.

F. The Chapel of the Swiss Guards

The Chapel of the Swiss Guards lies at the foot of the papal residence in the immediate vicinity of the Portone di Bronzo and the quarters of the Swiss Guards, and in it the services for the Guards are celebrated by their special chaplain. This Chapel of Sts. Martin and Sebastian dates from the sixteenth century, and has a special charm.

The former Cappelle di San Pio V lay on the southern end of the present halls of the library, the chapels being situated under one another on three floors. The middle chapel on the first floor formerly contained the addresses recently transferred to the Casino of Pius IV. The paintings here are by Giorgio Vasari.


The Vatican Palace was not intended and built as a residence. Only a comparatively small portion of the palace is residential; all the remainder serves the purposes of art and science or is employed for the administration of the official business of the Church and for the management of the palace. The rooms formerly intended specially for residence are today utilized to accommodate collections or as halls of state. Hence, the Vatican can more properly be regarded as a huge museum and a centre of scientific investigation than as a residence. The residential portion of the palace is around the Cortile di San Damaso, and includes also the quarters of the Swiss Guards and of the gendarmes situated at the foot of this section. Of some 1000 rooms in the whole palace about 200 serve as residential apartments for the pope, the secretary of state, the highest court officials, the high officials in close attendance on the pope, and some scientific and administrative officials. This limited number could be increased only with the most costly and extensive alterations. When the temporal dominion of the pope came to an end in 1870, a large number of the minor officials and servants of the Quirinal Palace had to be sustained during the confusion of the time ; these latter were temporarily assigned previously unused rooms of the Vatican. Pius X executed the plan of erecting in the immediate vicinity of the Vatican a special large residence for all these families, where they are now accommodated. This practical innovation affords them pleasant and commodious quarters.

In the eastern wing (facing towards Rome ) of the residential section the pope occupies two floors. On the upper floor (the third) he resides with his two private secretaries and some servants; on the second floor he works and receives visitors. One suite of rooms receives the morning, and the other the midday and afternoon sun. The second floor includes the reception rooms, which the visitor enters through the wonderful Sala Clementina, where a division of the Swiss Guards keep watch at the entrance to the papal apartments. The next room is the Anticamera Bassa, in which the servants stand, and in which all summoned to an audience lay aside their wraps. An air-trap opens into the Sala dei Gendarmi, so called because two gendarmes in court uniform are there stationed. A covered way leads backwards through the court to the working-room of the pope. The next hall is known as the Sala del Cantone or Sala della Guardia Palatina, as it is a corner room where during the reception a division of the Palatine Guards are drawn up. The eastern suite of rooms begins with the Sala degli Arazzi, in which three huge Gobelin tapestries resented by Louis XV adorn the walls. Between this and the Sala del Trono is a smaller room which serves to accommodate the Noble Guard, and leads to the pope's private chapel. The floor of the throne room is covered with a specially manufactured and costly Spanish carpet presented to Leo XIII. The room is simply fitted, giving a very impressive and restful effect.

Behind the throne room stands the Anticamera Segreta, at the entrance of which a member of the Noble Guard stands. The old and very valuable Gobelin tapestry which covers the floor is practically indestructible, but is tended with great care. In this room wait the majordomo or the maestro di camera and one or more spiritual chamberlains, when audiences are to be given. Here also wait the cardinals and persons of rank and station until their turn comes, while the others summoned to the audience wait in the throne room or in the other above-named halls. Situated on a corner, this room offers a wonderful view of the city and the Campagna to the east, the Piazza S. Pietro and the Janiculum to the south. Two smaller rooms and the Sala del Tronetto lie between the Anticamera Segreta and the pope's library, which is both his working-room and his reception room for current private audiences. Not far from the entrance of the library stands the pope's unpretentious, large writing-desk, beside which are some seats for visitors. In the middle of this large room, which is splendidly lighted by three windows, stands a broad mahogany table several yards long. The library cases run along the four walls, and above them hang twelve exquisite paintings of animals. Other decorations and fittings of the room combine in perfect harmony ; it is an ideal working-room.

This Christmas, Light your Free Prayer Candle!

Over the Anticamera Segreta, the Sala del Tronetto, and the two adjoining rooms is the pope's private chancellery, accessible only by a staircase from the inner vestibule of the library. Here, under the pope's direction, two secretaries with a staff of assistants transact all the unofficial affairs of the pontiff.

Immediately under these working and reception rooms of the pope is the suite of the secretary of state, who under Pius IX and Leo XIII occupied what are now the private rooms of the pope. Leo XIII assigned this suite temporarily to Cardinal Ledochowski, when he came to Rome from the prison of Ostrowo. These neglected rooms were recently renovated by a Spanish ecclesiastic of wealthy family. Here the secretary of state receives twice weekly the diplomats accredited to the Holy See and numerous other visitors. Along the Scala Pia, built and covered by Pius IX, which leads from the Portone di Bronzo to the Court of St. Damasus , lie the extensive apartments of the maestro di camera and the majordomo. The other residents of the palace are the four spiritual chamberlains in immediate attendance, the monsignor sagrista, the maestro del sacro palazzo (a Dominican, theological adviser of the pope and censor of the books printed in Rome ), under-secretary of state, prefect of the Vatican Library, household administrator of the Apostolic Palace, other court and administrative officials, and a few servants.


The Vatican contains an abundance of works of art, which are now catalogued in every tourist's guide-book. On the one hand are museums and collections and on the other the interior decoration of the palace. The Vatican treasures of art also include much of scientific importance, which will be treated in the following section. Here belong especially the rich treasures exhibited in the library and various other objects. The Vatican works of art represent in their entirety an irreplaceable treasure, which is not actively at the disposal of the Curia, but passively in their possession, since the repair and maintenance of these objects make great claims on the resources of the Holy See. Those who proclaim the riches of the Curia should know that, though the works of art are worth many hundred millions, they have no market value. The Holy See, notwithstanding its difficult financial position, values too highly its civilizing mission to divest itself of these treasures, which are being constantly increased.

15% OFF for Christmas
A. The Vatican Museums

Cosimo Stornaiolo says in one passage: "The attitude of the Church towards the statues of the false gods and similar works of art was proclaimed by the Christian poet Prudentius in the fourth century as follows (Contra Symmachum, 1, 502): 'Let the statues be retained merely as the works of great masters; as such they may constitute the greatest ornament of our native town [ Rome ] without the misuse of an art which serves the wicked contaminating these memorials.' In accordance with this spirit of the Church, the early Christian emperors issued repeatedly laws against the destroyers of ancient works of art, and medieval Rome saw on all sides -- in its public squares, in the ruins of the ancient palaces, and in the villas of the neighbourhood -- numberless statues of gods, emperors, and renowned men. It is true that, during a period of unrestrained barbarism when the popes transferred their residence from Rome to Avignon, works in marble found their way to the lime-kilns; but scarcely were these times past, during which Petrarch declares the Romans had degenerated to a nation of cowherds, than the popes, in accordance with their full conviction that the Church was the first-called protectress and patroness of art, devoted their attention to the preservation of the ancient objects of art. The papal palaces thus possess so great an abundance of masterpieces of all ages for the instruction and enjoyment of both the friends and the enemies of the papacy that, were all the other collections of the world destroyed by some catastrophe, the Vatican collection would suffice for the perpetuation of all æsthetic culture, both pagan and Christian. The popes were not alone the first to establish museums, but they have also by their example spurred all other governments of Europe to imitation, and thereby performed a great service in the refining of artistic taste among all modern nations. For the Vatican museums, in contrast to so many others, were instituted purely from æsthetic, and not from historical considerations." These important remarks apply not alone to the museums, but likewise to all the Vatican collections and scientific institutions. The Vatican museums are: (1) The Museo Pio-Clementino; (2) the Galleria Chiaramonti; (3) the Braccio Nuovo; (4) the Egyptian Museum; (5) the Etruscan Museum.

(1) The Museo Pio-Clementino

The first collection of antiquities in the world was made by Popes Julius II, Leo X , Clement VII, and Paul III in the Belvedere. Of the treasures there collected, most of which were a few decades later (especially by Pius V ) given away or removed, only a few of the prominent objects maintain their place in the Vatican today. To these belong, for example, the Torso of Heracles, the Belvedere Apollo, and the Laocoon. Clement XIV's activity in collecting antiquities was continued by Pius VI with such great success that their combined collections, arranged by Ennio Quirino Visconti, were united in one large museum, named for these popes, the Museo Pio-Clementino. It contains eleven separate rooms, filled with celebrated antiquities.

(a) Sala a croce greca. -- At the expense of half a million lire ($100,000) Pius VI had the two gigantic porphyry sarcophagi of Sts. Helena and Constantia, the mother and daughter of Constantine the Great, repaired and transferred to this museum, built by Simonetti. Conspicuous among the statues is that of the youthful Octavian, one of the very few ancient statues of which the head was never separated from the trunk. Among the few mosaics is the Cnidian Venus, which is esteemed the most perfect copy of the masterpiece of Praxiteles.
(b) Sala della Biga. -- The masterly restoration of an ancient two-wheeled racing chariot, drawn by two horses, by the sculptor Franzoni has given its name to the beautiful circular room erected by Camporesi. The wheels and one of the horses are new, a fact which only the expert can discern. In this room are also a bearded Bacchus, two discus-throwers, a bearded athlete, sarcophagi, and other works of art.
(c) Galleria dei Candelabri. -- Under Pius VI the very long Hall of Bramante was closed on this side, and was divided into six compartments by arches resting on Dorian columns of vari-coloured marble. In addition to many vessels of costly marbles, eight magnificent candelabra of white marble, after which this hail is named, are especially conspicuous. The exquisitely fine tracings and arabesques are among the finest examples of this form of art. A Ganymede carried away by an eagle, a local goddess of a town in Antiochia, a Greek runner, and a fighting Persian are the most important among the numerous sculptures. Especially valuable is a sarcophagus with a representation in mezzo-rilievo of the tragedy of the daughters of Niobe. This hail was selected by Leo XIII to immortalize, through Ludwig Seitz, some of the most important acts of his pontificate. In a deeply thoughtful composition the artist represented St. Thomas Aquinas as the teacher of Christian philosophy, the agreement between religion and science, the union of ancient pagan and Christian art, the Rosary and the battle of Lepanto, and Divine grace in its various activities as working in Sts. Clara of Montefalco, Benedict Labre, Laurence of Brindisi, and John Baptist de Rossi, canonized in 1881. Seitz also painted a symbolic representation of four ideas taken from the Encyclicals of Leo XIII : Christian marriage, the praise of the Third Order of St. Francis, the condemnation of Freemasonry, and the agreement between secular and religious authority. This classical cycle of paintings is important (cf. Senes, "Galleria dei Candelabri, affreschi di Ludovico Seitz", Rome, 1891).
(d) Sala rotonda. -- Built after the model of the Pantheon by Simonetti, this hall contains as its most precious object the bust of the Zeus of Otricoli. Pius IX paid 268,000 lire ($53,600) for the colossal gilt bronze statue of Hercules. The Barberini Hera, as it is called, is an exquisite work of art. The great mosaic in the floor, in the centre of which is a monster porphyry shell, was discovered at Otricoli in 1780.
(e) Sala delle Muse. -- The eight-cornered hall, which Pius VI commissioned Simonetti to build, was intended to receive the nine Muses under the leadership of Apollo, as well as busts of all those who should have acquired renown in the service of the same. Pius VI here paid brilliant homage to art and science, representing truth with a noble magnanimity against the brutal caricatures of culture of the waning eighteenth century.
(f) Sala degli animali. -- This room contains the richest collection in the world of (about 150) representations of animals from classical antiquity, many of the works of art being of high importance.
(g) Galleria delle statue. -- Innocent VIII (1484-92) had a summer-house erected in the vicinity of the Belvedere, and had it adorned with frescoes by Mantegna and Pinturicchio. Clement XIV and Pius VI had this building altered, and transferred thither such important treasures as the Weeping Penelope, the Apollo Sauroktonos, the Amazon from the Villa Mattei, a Greek monumental stele, the Sleeping Ariadne, and the Barberini Candelabra.
(h) Sala dei Busti. -- In this second division of the former summer-house are over 100 busts of Romans, gods and goddesses, etc.
(i) Gabinetto delle Maschere. -- The floor mosaic with masques, found in the Villa Hadriana at Tivoli in 1780, gives this third division of the summer-house its name. Worthy of special mention is the renowned Satyr, of rosso antico, and the dancing woman of Pentelic marble from Naples.
(j) Cortile del Belvedere. -- The former square court belonging to the ancient Belvedere was adorned in 1775 with a pillared hall, and in 1803 the chamfered corner halls were converted into little temples. In the first of these stands the unrivalled and celebrated Laocoon group. It was discovered near Sette Sale in 1506, during the reign of Julius II, and was named by Michelangelo the miracle of art. In the second little temple is the admirable Belvedere Apollo, discovered near Grotta Ferrata about 1490. Canova was allowed to exhibit his Perseus and the Two Boxers in the third temple, where, however, they are not seen to advantage. In the fourth temple is the well-known Hermes dating from the fourth century before Christ; formerly this statue was thought to represent Antinous.
(k) Gabinetti del Belvedere. -- In the three cabinets, or atria, are conspicuous the statue of Meleager, the above-mentioned Torso of Belvedere, and the sarcophagi and inscriptions relating to the Scipio family.

(2) The Galleria Chiaramonti

Thirty-four pilasters indicate the thirty sections into which the Galleria Chiaramonti is divided in the corridor 492 feet long. More than 300 sculptures, mostly of smaller dimensions and of a variety of subjects, are here artistically exhibited. They are chiefly the work of Greek sculptors living in Rome, and are carved after Grecian models. Prominent among the original Greek works are the Daughters of Niobe, a relief in Bœotian limestone, and the head of Neptune.

(3) The Braccio Nuovo

Although many of the halls of the Museo Pio-Clementino, especially those built by Simonetti, viewed from the purely architectonic standpoint, make a very brilliant impression and justly command much admiration, still the Braccio Nuovo is incontestably the crown of the museum buildings. The general impression of absolute perfection and symmetry is effected by the harmonious proportions of the long hall, the method of lighting, and the arrangement of the masterpieces exhibited. This hall was erected by Raphael Stern at the commission of Pius VII, at a cost of 1,500,000 lire ($300,000). The magnificent barrel-vault is decorated with richly gilt cassettes; the cornices, the fourteen antique columns of giallo antico, cipollino, alabaster, and Egyptian granite, the transverse hall equally dividing the whole, the marble floor, all contribute an appropriate setting for the masterpieces. In this museum stand twenty-eight statues in as many niches, while in the transverse hall are fifteen more. Between the niches on marble consoles are twenty-eight busts; others rest on mural consoles; between these and the cornice beautiful bas-reliefs are set in the walls. At the rear of the hall stands the statue of the Athlete (or Apoxyomenus) cleaning himself of sweat and dust with a scraper. This statue, as well as that of the other Athlete (the Doryphorus, or spearsman), are antique copies of the Greek originals of Lysippus and Polycletus. The majestic

Join the Movement
When you sign up below, you don't just join an email list - you're joining an entire movement for Free world class Catholic education.

40 Days of Deals this Christmas season of 2022
Daily Readings logo
Advent & Christmas logo

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2022 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2022 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!