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With the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI signifying the first retirement of a pope in over 600 years, the archbishops of the Vatican are once again hitching up their skirts and settling down to leaf through the potential canditates for Earth’s Next Top Pope. With these changes shaking up the Catholic faith, and the prophecy of the popes looming ominously, it seems appropriate that we wax nostalgic over the history of the Vatican.
The Vatican is the smallest independent state in the world in terms of its population and physical size; occupying a small area within the city of Rome and secluding itself through the use of walls. The Vatican is ruled by the reigning pope, and the Vatican’s jurisdiction extends to some areas within and outside of Rome. The relationship between the popes and Rome is complex. For the majority of Rome’s history, after a long-ago Roman Emperor decided Rome was no longer fit to serve the purpose of capital, it suffered a decline in population. Due to the ruler’s lack of interest in Rome, it became more of a spiritual place for the popes to rule over, and instead of living in what would be known in modern times as the Vatican, the popes tended to reside in the royal palaces left in Rome, such as the Quirinal Palace. However, during the unification of Italy in the nineteenth century, the leaders decided to reclaim Rome and make it part of the new Italy. The papal forces could not resist, and the current pope retreated to the Vatican compound, refusing to acknowledge the authority of the new Italian king’s right to rule in Rome. Pope Pius IX, the last ruler of the Papal States in the nineteenth century., referred to himself as a “Prisoner in the Vatican”. The conflict was not resolved and the Vatican state not officially founded until the signing of the Lateran Pact on February 11th 1929, where the nature of the Vatican’s sovereign state was universally recognised in law and by the Kingdom of Italy.
The office of pope as head of the Catholic Church has apparently spanned from the time of Saint Peter until the present day, although during the early years of the Catholicism, many parts of Europe and the east instead embraced paganism or Islam. In the eleventh century, the popes faced conflict with the leaders and churches of the Holy Roman and Byzantine empire, and in the twelfth century ran into problems with kings of Europe, who believed they should have absolute power when it came to ruling their country and resented the interference of the pope. The most famous battle between the papacy and a king is that which caused the English Reformation in the sixteenth century, thanks to Henry VIII’s impatience when it came to trying to make a son and heir.
More mysteriously, a monk in the twelfth century believed he could predict the popes who would rule until, what some have interpreted as the Apocalypse, comes. According to this prophecy, Benedict XVI was one of the last popes who will ever lead the Catholic Church, being the ‘Glory of the Olive’, a pope dedicated to peace and reconciliation. After him, the prophecy suggests that there will a “final persecution of the Holy Roman Church”, which one pope will oversee, followed by “Peter the Roman, who will pasture his sheep in many tribulations, and when these things are finished, the city of seven hills [Rome] will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The End”. In summary, if the prophecy is to be believed, Catholic clergy all over the world could well be shaking in their boots at the impending doom of Judgement Day, and have recently stated that they are in no rush to find a replacement for Benedict – perhaps they’re trying to find the perfect pope and prevent the fulfilling of the prophecy. In my opinion, I reckon we’re only a couple of years away from more proclamations of the world ending and everybody sitting around wondering when exactly the earth will go up in flames. The end is nigh, or is it?