The Vatican Riches

Most of us have either read the book “The Davinci Code” or at least seen the movie with Tom Hanks…In the movie, he is an art detective and “symbologist” specializing in mysteries about art treasures, and while the book is both fascinating and controversial, I am more interested in focusing on the corner of the curtain the movie lifted to reveal the extent of the great treasure trove of the riches and art of the Vatican that presented the background for the movie….

The Vatican is best known as the official and legal home of the Pope of the Catholic Church…It has been around for centuries, and over the years has managed to not only survive despite it’s tiny size, but to amass some of the most magnificent and stunning art treasures in the world, both of religious and symbolic import, beauty and significance….Today I will share with you some of the secrets of the hidden treasures of the Vatican, as well as the mysterious and curious existence of the Vatican itself…….



Let’s begin with some basic facts, as per my Google sources: “Vatican City is the smallest country in the world. Encircled by a 2-mile border with Italy, Vatican City is an independent city-state that covers just over 100 acres, making it one-eighth the size of New York’s Central Park. Vatican City is governed as an absolute monarchy with the pope at its head. The Vatican mints its own euros, prints its own stamps, issues passports and license plates, operates media outlets and has its own flag and anthem. The majority of Vatican City’s 600 citizens live abroad.

The modern city state of Vatican City government was formed when Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini and Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri signed the Lateran Treaty in Feb 1929; the treaty was one of three agreements collectively known as the Lateran Pacts of 1929. One of the clauses established in 1929 was that the Vatican must remain neutral, and would not act as an intermediary unless all parties agree upon such an arrangement.”…

Because Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was an ally of Germany all through WWII, Adolph Hitler and his Nazi troops in Rome never actually occupied the Vatican….During the war, Pope Pius XII made attempts to maintain Vatican City’s neutrality. The Vatican, though damaged in bombing was officially neutral in WWII, as was Switzerland, Ireland and Spain……



“During the war, the Vatican City never publicly condemned the Nazi systematic extermination of various groups, which included many Catholics. Speaking to American representatives who tried to persuade him to do so, Pope Pius XII expressed that he could not speak of the Nazi atrocities without also bring up similar Soviet practices.

It was also the Vatican’s official stance that the alleged atrocities could not be verified. However, Pope Pius XII Christmas address of 1942 did make mention of human aggression and the racial violence, with language suggesting that he was targeting the Germans without specifically naming them.”

“Although the Vatican failed to make a stance against the extermination of Jews, Vatican City, and the Catholic Church in general, was credited with savings thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. Nazi official Adolf Eichmann, for example, had written in his diary that while the Vatican took no official stance, members of the church “vigorously protested the arrest of Jews, requesting the interruption of such action”.

‘Pius XII: This is the only human being who
has always contradicted me, and who has never obeyed me.’

-Adolf Hitler-

But enough of politics, although the true role of Pope Pius XII and the Vatican during WWII is a twisted and torturous dance of accommodation, denials, and virulent charges and counter charges, I am sure the real truth will never come out anyway, as nearly everybody that was alive back then is dead now of old age….But it does give you pause to think, because at the same time the historical perspective has also shifted over the years, and the Pope is no longer considered infallible as he once was…But that was then, and this is now…

It is enough for the purpose of this short introductory blog to display some of the more famous and visually stunning art masterpieces….Now here is the hard part for me to admit, I am no art expert, but as they say, I know what I like….I will try to group some of the more visually stunning art treasures in groups, such as statues, portraits and background scenery, and  there may of course be some overlapping I might be unaware of, hope that you enjoy them too…



I will just try to break it down to give you a small sampling of the available art treasures, but how they packed so many of what are considered masterpieces in such a small space on this earth is a wonder in itself….Some of the paintings are so lifelike you have to catch your breath, it is like the subject of the portrait is staring directly at you!…

The details in both the portraits and the statues is incredible, they are so lifelike and faithful to the original models, with every muscle and expression delineated on the statues, and the robes, gowns and folds in the clothing so intricately and faithfully rendered in the portraits they look like photographs….

Of course, since this is the home of the Catholic church, the great majority of the art work represented is Christian in origin, but I was surprised when browsing the vast galleries of artwork available on various Google sites how many Roman and other pagan deities are also represented….Suffice to say, if I ever did make it to Europe, or if you ever do, please consider checking out these fabulous exhibits in the Vatican City…. But enough of the small talk, here are some of the statues to start out with….




Here are some of the Vatican interior scenes, mostly frescoes and chapel ceilings, including  some of Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel ceiling paintings he had to do on his back over several years, a true labor of love and craftsmanship…..


vatican14ceilingvatican10 interior2


And finally, I will leave you with a few of the magnificent paintings that grace the walls and halls of the Vatican, collected and compiled over hundreds of years, from all over Europe, some of them as fresh and new looking as the day they were painted…..




As I have noted, the attention to detail and the lifelike representations of these paintings, statues, and frescoes and all the other works of art, is breathtaking, and I wonder if they could be duplicated in today’s mass produced, everything to a timetable and master plan way of creating artwork…

I think not, I think they belong and could only be created in the world they were first rendered, where time was of less importance than attention to detail, schedules not so rigorous that the job or commission could not be fulfilled to the absolute maximum capacity of the artist’s talents, and created in, and as an intrinsic part, of a world where such qualities were not only appreciated but richly rewarded…

We can only gaze now with awe over the centuries at what once was, and still exists today, in these magnificent pieces of artwork, The Vatican Riches....

For more information on The Vatican Riches visit “Ten things you may not know about the Vatican,”  and  “Vatican City-World War II database”

For more articles by John Whye, click on

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