What is the History of Papacy in Rome?

Rome has long been considered the centre of the Catholic Church, especially with the city-state, the Vatican being the home of the Pope. 

The Papacy refers to the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church as a whole. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, the official leader of the worldwide Catholic Church, as well as being the head of state of Vatican City. The Pope resides in St. Peter’s Basilica, one of the largest churches in the world, designed by renown Renaissance artists Michelangelo, Bernini and others. Head of the Catholic Church is a significant and honourable position, hence why they use the word ‘Pope’ which is derived from the Greek word pappas, meaning father.

Italy’s first Pope

The first pope was none other than St. Peter himself. Peter was one of Jesus’ twelve apostles listed in the Bible and was the rock on which Christ would build his church. Following Jesus rising from the dead, he asked Peter to care for the Church in his name. Peter was the first person to perform a miracle in the Lord’s name. He was appointed the first pope of Rome and was said to be one of the greatest missionaries in the religious antiquity. Appointed in the 1st century, St. Peter was chosen by Jesus to guide people through Christianity, so that they might be reunited with God in Heaven. This is clearly stated in the gospel of Matthew, Chapter 16: “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church […] I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven”. As a result all Popes are therefore considered symbolic descendants of Peter. Since Peter’s passing, there have been more than 260 occupants of the papal office, with St. Peter being succeeded by Pope Linus, although there is some debate about this, since it was so long ago. It more recent years, Pope’s such as  Benedict XVI and Francis, have faced new issues, such as trying to reconcile the strict traditions of the church with the realities of modern life.

The Papacy Periods 

During the course of the 2,000 years in which the papal system and the practice of electing popes in the conclave have evolved, the papacy has played a crucial role in both Western and world history. This history of the papacy can be pretty much split between 5 different periods; the early papacy; the medieval papacy; the Renaissance papacy; the early modern papacy; and the modern papacy. These periods demonstrate the tradition that stands behind the Papacy and it’s level of ongoing significance. The early papacy was very much plagued by where the home of Christianity should be. With the legend that St. Peter had been martyred in Rome, this naturally gave the imperial capital a place of honour, although no hard evidence for this exists. Moving into the Medieval papacy, which saw the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476, the involvement of the Eastern emperor in papal affairs was gradually replaced by that of Germanic rulers and leading Roman families. The Renaissance papacy saw religion intertwined with political power as well as the outbreak of schism, with Christian’s split between their loyalties. Issues continued into the early modern papacy where the 18th century Enlightenment period created a climate hostile to faith in general and to the papacy. Nowadays the modern papacy relies on its spiritual or teaching authority, based in the Vatican City.

The Downfall of the Papal States

The Papal States, also known as the Republic of Saint Peter, or the Church States, were run by the popes at the time. From 756 to 1870, they were in control of a large portion of Italy, including Rome. The downfall of the papal states was by the Kingdom of Italy. During the year 1861, all the papal territories joined the new kingdom of Italy, excluding Rome and its surrounds. The Pope both refused to acknowledge the Kingdom of Italy as a country and retreated into Rome, under the protection of the French troops, who eventually withdrew in 1870. Rome was then conquered, with the Pope hiding inside the Vatican walls in protest. He continued to acknowledge the Kingdom of Italy as a rightful country as well as grumbling on how he was confined within the Vatican Walls by the Kingdom of Italy. Italy decided instead of forcing him out, they would simply wait until the Pope cracked, and accepted the reality, finally stepping out of the Vatican walls. However, this argument lasted sixty years, with multiple Popes accepting this self-imposed captivity. Finally, in 1929, the Prime Minister of Italy proposed an agreement. They agreed that the Vatican City could become its own country, controlled by the Pope. In the agreement, the Vatican City would be neutral to any political disagreements or war. This was the end of the Papal States and the birth of the Vatican City.

How you can see it today?

Due to its downfall, the papal states are no more. But visiting the Vatican City is your next best thing. Even if you are not religious, seeing the religious city’s traditions, decorations, and history is well worth the visit. You can even see the current pope in real life. Pope Francis is the current and 266th pope in rein. If you are travelling at the right time, why not join the general audience viewing? Hundreds of locals and tourists all attend, cheering as the Pope does prayers and blessings to the crowd. This is a great way to see the Italian culture up close and personal. Other attractions in the Vatican include the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s square which is filled with crowds of people several times a year for different events. These attractions promise a fascinating visit for religious and non-religious people alike for their grandeur, impressive architecture and interior masterpieces.

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