What is the world’s smallest country? Here is a clue: It serves as the spiritual center of the Roman Catholic Church and is surrounded by the city of Rome.
The answer: Vatican1 City. This tiny nation occupies a mere 109 acres. Its 820 residents could fit comfortably into a large apartment building in New York City.
The Pope, Benedict XVI, presides over Vatican City—and the world’s largest body of Christians.
The Vatican’s Christian history goes back almost 2,000 years. In 64 A.D., Roman Emperor Nero had many Christians put to death on Rome’s Vatican Hill. According to tradition, one of those martyrs2 was Peter, an apostle3 of Jesus. Catholic belief holds that the Pope is Peter’s successor4 as head of the church.
Persecution5 continued sporadically6 for about two centuries. Then, in 313, Roman emperors Constantine I and Licinius legalized Christianity. Constantine, the first Emperor to convert to Christianity, built the original St. Peter’s Basilica7, thought to be on the site of Peter’s tomb.
Although Italy’s history dates to ancient times, it was not united as one nation until 1870. Before then, the Catholic Church had ruled the Papal States for more than 1,000 years. But in the 1860s, the Italian Army conquered the Papal States, taking Rome in 1870.
For the next 60 years, Italy and the Vatican were at odds8. This ended in 1929, when the Lateran Treaty recognized Vatican City as a mini-state (small independent nation) and the pope as its sovereign9.
Because it is such a small country, however, Vatican City shares government functions with Rome and Italy. Vatican City has its own coins, for instance, but they are minted10 in Rome. It has its own police force, but depends on the Italian Army for its military defense. There is a small jail, but“to my knowledge, it has never been used,” says Robert, a professor of church history at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.
Residents of Vatican City include the pope and his staff; several Cardinals11, who are the Church’s highest-ranking officials; and the Swiss Guard, a corps of soldiers that has guarded the Pope since 1506.
Among his many responsibilities, the Pope oversees the Church’s 3,000-plus districts worldwide. He appears in public twice a week to deliver blessings.
However, his life is not all work. Pope John XXIII (1958—1963) had a bowling alley12 built at the Vatican, and Pope John Paul II (1978-2005), an avid13 sportsman, loved to swim and ski.
The few children who live in Vatican City go to school in Rome. But there is a boarding school for the altar boys14 who serve at Vatican Masses15.
Tourists and Pilgrims16
Each year, about 4 million people—both religious pilgrims and tourists—flock to Vatican City. Most tourists come to see the art, especially the frescoes17 painted by Michelangelo. A great Renaissance artist, Michelangelo spent four years completing the frescoes. He recalled being twisted into uncomfortable positions on a scaffold18, noting that the paint dripping onto his face turned it “into a rich mosaic.”
In addition to its art, the Vatican maintains vast archives19. The collection includes love letters from English King Henry VIII to his second wife, Anne Boleyn. The king’s desire to divorce his first wife caused him to split from the Catholic Church and create the Church of England.
The museums and St. Peter’s Basilica are open to the public. But the rest of Vatican City is not. Admission is limited to those who have appointments to meet church officials or study in the archives.“You can’t just wander in,” says Robert.“Otherwise, the city would be flooded [with people].”
If you do go to Vatican City, you’ll have to watch what you wear. The dress code20 for visitors to St. Peter’s calls for clothing that is “modest” and“appropriate.” This means no shorts, sleeveless shirts, or skirts above the knee. For anyone who arrives with insufficient covering, however, vendors21 on the plaza sell paper clothing.
1. Vatican n. 梵蒂冈
2. martyr n. 殉道者
3. apostle n. 信徒，传道者
4. successor n. 继任者
5. persecution n. 迫害
6. sporadically adv. 偶发地；零星地
7. basilica n. 基督教堂
8. at odds 不和，争吵
9. sovereign n. 最高统治者
10. mint v. 铸造
11. cardinal n. 红衣主教
12. alley n. 球道
13. avid adj. 迷恋的，热衷的
14. altar boy 祭台助手
15. mass 弥撒，罗马天主教教堂和一些新教教堂举行的领取圣餐的公共庆祝活动。
16. pilgrim n. 朝圣者
17. fresco n. 壁画
18. scaffold n. 脚手架
19. archive n. 档案文件
20. dress code 着装规范
21. vendor n. 小贩