“Cultural communities in general have turned to flags in a stunning way,” Becker commented, citing in part a proliferation of cheaply made, mass-produced flags. And, anecdotally, there seems to be an ever-increasing interest in the Vatican flag as a way for Catholics to claim an identity, whether by flying a flag at home, waving it at a papal event, or by putting one in their social media profile picture.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Vatican flag is less than 100 years old, as is Vatican City itself. For more than a millennium before 1870, the pope ruled over the Papal States, large regions mainly within present-day Italy. After the Vatican lost control of the Papal States, it found itself a tiny island surrounded by an acrimonious Italy. It took nearly 60 years until the ratification of the Lateran Accords of 1929 ushered in harmony between the Vatican and Italy, and the creation of the world’s smallest sovereign country.
In the days of the Papal States, many different flags were used, but the yellow and white color scheme was a common feature. Becker said the modern design was first used by the merchant fleet in the Papal States from 1825 to 1870. In 1929, that design was chosen as the new flag of Vatican City, the sovereign country.
“It took a while in 1929 to get some flags made. The techniques of mass production weren’t available yet, and so it would have been a matter of sewing up some flags and fitting out buildings with flag staffs,” Becker noted, saying that during this time and for years afterward there was quite a bit of variation between the Vatican flags people flew, perhaps even more so than today.
“That’s kind of common with other countries too, especially those that don’t really take pains to standardize their design. [Nowadays] a flagmaker is likely to go to a source like Wikipedia, and it may vary in its accuracy,” Becker told CNA.
The same flag chosen in 1929 was reconfirmed in a revised Vatican constitution, issued by Pope John Paul II in 2000. The original Vatican flag was actually square, as indeed the official version is today. Since roughly the 1960s, though, buildings began to fly oblong state flags that followed Italy’s flag proportions, probably because most Vatican flags at the time were mass-produced there.
The flag has special significance beyond the walls of Vatican City as a marker for the Vatican’s extraterritorial properties, of which there are more than a dozen. These properties, which include major basilicas such as St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. Mary Major, are marked as the Vatican’s through their flying of the papal flag.
Becker said he hopes his website will serve as a helpful resource for anyone looking for the exact Vatican flag design, at least until the Vatican issues some kind of clarification on what exactly the flag should look like.
“The papal flag is interesting because on the one hand, the Vatican is such a small state, but the papal flag is seen all over the world. Anywhere there’s a Catholic church, you might be likely to run into a papal flag,” he said.
“It would be nice if somebody at the Holy See could, through their website or wherever, make some design specifications more available … design specifications that manufacturers could rely on a bit more.”
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we’ll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won’t rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Services Marketplace – Listings, Bookings & Reviews