The Papal State and Vatican City

from 1840 to 1929


Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Woo, Na Young
Term Paper, AP European History Class, February 2007



Table of Contents


I. The Papal State in the 1840es to 1860es
II. The End of the Papal States 1860-1870
III. The "Roman Question" 1871-1929
IV. The Lateran Treaty of 1929
V. Bibliography



I. The Papal State in the 1840es to 1860es


            The Papal State was regarded as a serious obstacle to Italian unification, especially in the 1840s, when nationalistic tendencies were simultaneously rising in various countries of Europe. Because the Papal State was seen "by the popes as vital to their independence and security," and because the practicing Catholics of Europe shared the same sentiments, many European nations interfered in Italian affairs, impeding Italian nationalism and unification (Duggan, p.138). Furthermore, even if foreign intervention remained relatively enclosed within the boundaries of the Papal State, a unified Italy without Rome was symbolically meaningless for the Italian people. In the end, the dissolution of the Papal State was necessary for in order for an Italian nation state to emerge.
Even before 1849, when Mazzini, a radical patriot, called for a "Roman Republic" and caused Pope Pius IX to flee Rome, Catholic nations, most prominently, Austria and France, protected the Papal State with armed forces and warred the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, a ruling power under which the Italian people were willing to unite besides that of the revolutionaries (Duggan, p.114; Wikipedia : Papal States) Specifically, while Austria continued its battles against the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, France, under Louis Napoleon Bonaparte or Emperor Napoleon III, maintained its guard on the Papal State.
However, despite such foreign impediments, the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, under King Victor Emmanuel II and his Prime Minister Count Cavour, managed to expand its territories in the midst of war, peasant uprisings and general confusion (Duggan, p.128). Moreover, the betrayal of Napoleon III at the last moment to aid the Kingdom against Austria considerably weakened the French control over the Kingdom¡¯s political decisions (Duggan, p.129). The Papal State was first conquered by "Italian" forces during this time when the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, against its promise to Napoleon III that Rome would not be attacked, took over nearly two-thirds of the State as an attempt to stop the republican forces, under Giuseppe Garibaldi, an adherent of the now exiled Mazzini, from uniting Italy in 1860 (Duggan, pp.130, 132; Wikipedia : Papal States).


II. The End of the Papal States 1860-1870


            Nonetheless, Italian unification was just beyond the horizon when Garibaldi, against the predictions of Cavour, willingly handed over the southern portion of Italy to Victor Emmanuel II and allowed the latter to maintain hold on both the north and south. The problem now remained with the unconquered remnants of the Papal State, which had lost much territory, the pope's armed forces as well as numerous priests who had opposed the intrusion and were shot to death (Duggan, pp.132-133). What had once been a vast amount of land, the Papal State lost Romagna, Marches and Umbria and was left with only Rome and its immediate surroundings (Wikipedia : Papal States). Pius IX's response to such invasion, as expected, was extremely hostile. He not only excommunicated the Sardinian king and his ministers but also established the Syllabus of Errors in 1864, which declared "the incompatibility of Catholicism with Liberalism" and encouraged Catholics to stop participating in the Italian political system (Duggan, p.138). Furthermore, although the Italian Parliament had declared Rome as its capital in 1861, the remnants of the Papal States could not be touched as the French troops still protected the pope and his land.
However, the final break-through of the Papal State was inevitable when Napoleon III withdrew his forces to supplement his army during the Franco-German War in 1870 (Duggan, p.143). Already, within Rome, peasant uprisings dating from the 1860's indicated that the people desperately wanted to be united with the rest of Italy. In a show of courtesy, Victor Emmanuel II sent Count Martino to Rome to offer a peaceful takeover (Wikipedia : Papal States). However, the Count's reception was greatly hostile and the Italian army decided to breach the city through the Leonine walls at Porta Pia. Rome was taken by September 10, 1870 and the final remnants of the Papal State were annexed in October according to a plebiscite (Duggan, p.143; Wikipedia : Papal States).


III. The "Roman Question" 1871-1929


            To compensate the Holy See¡¯s losses, Victor Emmanuel established a law in 1871 that allowed the pope to have equal rights as a sovereign, the ownership of the Vatican as well as the Lateran Palace and the Villa of Castel Gandolfo in replacement of the Quirinal Palace, which became the royal palace, and an annual payment for the lost territories (Duggan, p.143). However, Pius IX refused to recognize this law, rejected the payment and locked himself up as "a prisoner in the Vatican" (Infoplease : Lateran Treaty). From this point on, the conflict between the Italian state and the papacy began to be referred to as the "Roman Question," which passed over four generation of popes until a solution was found in 1929 (Wikipedia : Vatican State). Until that time, domestic social unrest between the conservatives and the revolutionaries as well as the onslaught of World War I and the onset of fascism prevented the Italian people from coming back to this question.


IV. The Lateran Treaty 1929


            The "Roman Question" was finally solved on February 11, 1929 with the signing of the Lateran Treaty at the Lateran Palace of Rome. The Treaty was a concordat between the Roman Catholic Church's Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy, negotiated by Cardinal Gasparri, representing Pope Pius XI, and Benito Mussolini, representing King Victor Emmanuel III. Cardinal Pacelli, who would later become Pope Pius XII was also present during the negotiations (Infoplease : Lateran Treaty).
The Lateran Treaty first declared Roman Catholicism as Italy's state religion. As a result, marriage became a religious ceremony and Catholicism was to be taught in primary and secondary schools (Gilbert and Large, p.219). Italy had to further guarantee the autonomy of the Vatican City as an independent state and the pope as an independent sovereign. Moreover, public services, such as the trials of certain criminals, and protection were expected from the Italian government, as well as the recognition of certain buildings outside the Vatican, such as the Lateran Palace, as properties of the Holy See (Infoplease : Lateran Treaty). Finally, on this day, the church received its reimbursements for the territories it had lost in 1870 (Gilbert and Large, p.219).
In return, the Holy See promised to keep out of Italian politics, unless it directly hindered the Catholic Church's goal for international peace. As a matter of fact, the church is even allowed to prevent warfare "when it sees fit" (Infoplease : Lateran Treaty).
Although the Lateran Treaty had much spiritual significance, it was also largely a political solution. As a matter of fact, Mussolini had been trying to persuade the pope to resolve the "Roman Question" ever since he came into power in 1923 (Gilbert and Large, p.220). Although, he had, in his earlier days, proudly advocated the fact that he was an atheist, Mussolini came to realize the benefits he would receive from the support of the church and changed his attitude (Gilbert and Large, p.220). As he had predicted, his reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church "was a great political coup for Mussolini [that] increased his personal prestige, internationally as well as at home" (Duggan, p.226). He was now regarded not only as a diplomatic and practical politician but also an advocate of peace and unity. Most important for Mussolini and his fascist state, however, was the use of religion to gain popularity and to wield spiritual propaganda. As "the man sent by providence," according to Pius XI's words, Mussolini granted his "regime [...] a new degree of moral legitimacy," that helped to win future plebiscites with an overwhelming majority of votes (Duggan, p.227).
Nonetheless, in the long run, Catholicism and fascism were at odds with one another as both tried to stand as the dominant ideology of the Italian people. By 1931, Mussolini blamed various Catholic organizations for interfering in politics and therefore, going against the Lateran Treaty signed only two years ago (Duggan, p.227). Despite the new - albeit insignificant compared to the "Roman Question" - conflict between the church and the Italian state, the Lateran Treaty lasted even after the monarchy, or one of the two parties that had signed the treaty, was abolished by the end of World War II (Infoplease : Lateran Treaty). Most recently, in 1984, a new concordat was drawn up between the Holy See and Italy, which declared that even though the autonomy of the Vatican City will continue to be respected, Roman Catholicism will no longer be the Italian state religion (Wikipedia : Vatican State.


V. Bibliography

1.      Duggan, Christopher. A Concise History of Italy. Cambridge : UP, 1994.
2.      F. Gilbert and D. C. Large. The End of the European Era, 1890 to the Present, 4th ed. New York : W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1991.
3.      "Lateran Treaty." The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Columbia UP. Last modified 2007, on Infoplease
4.      "Papal States." Wikipedia. Last modified 24 Feb. 2007.
5.      "WHKMLA : History of the Papal State, 1849-1860." Ganse, Alexander. Last modified 27 March, 2006.
6.      "Vatican City." Wikipedia. Last modified 23 Feb. 2007