History and Meaning of the Vatican Flag

On the 7th of June, 1929 the Lateran Treaty was signed under Pope Pius XI and the Vatican officially became its own country. Vatican City became the smallest country in the world with a population of less than a thousand people and an area of 44 hectares. Despite its small size, the Vatican has its own post office, its own embassies, its own Euro currency minted in the Vatican, its own army (the Swiss Guards), and of course its own official national flag. The Vatican flag is also known as the flag of the Holy See.

Meaning of the Vatican Flag

The Vatican Flag is a vertical bicolor of gold and silver however it appears in the colors of yellow and white. The gold (yellow) symbolizes Heavenly power with the silver (white) representing Earthly power. Centered in the white band is the Papal Coat of Arms. Before the Vatican became a separate country, Italy had been divided into ten different States in which the Vatican had its own Papal States. In 1803 the Papal States started using a white flag showing the Papal Coat of Arms and in 1815 this flag was made official as the flag for the Papal States. On September 17th, 1825 the flag was changed to be yellow and white which the Vatican flag is modeled on today.

What is the Papal Coat of Arms

The image on the Vatican flag is the Papal Coat of Arms. You will see it displayed in many places around Vatican City. The Papal Coat of Arms represents a gold and silver key crossing each other pointing upwards connected together with a red cord. Above the keys is the Papal Tiara which has been worn by Pope’s from the 8th Century up until Pope Paul VI in 1963. In fact from 1143 to 1963 the Papal Tiara would be placed on the Pope’s head during the Papal Coronation. The tiara displayed on the Vatican flag is the one worn by Pope Pius XI who was the Pope when the Lateran Treaty was signed in 1929.

The keys on the Papal Coat of Arms represent the keys that Jesus gave to Saint Peter who was a disciple of Jesus and who was to become the first Pope. The keys are said to be the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. In western paintings and sculptures, Peter is always depicted with the keys. According to the Gospel of Matthew 16:19, Jesus said “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on Earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth shall be loosed in Heaven”. “Behold he received the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, the power of binding and loosing is committed to him, the care of the whole church and its government is given to him”. The key on the left is gold, again representing Heavenly power, and the key on the right is silver, symbolizing Earthly power.

The flag is displayed in many Catholic Churches around the world. Often when walking through Rome you can recognize an embassy to the Vatican with the Vatican flag on display. The Vatican flag was even taken to the moon on Apollo 11. That flag is now on display in the Vatican Museums alongside some moon rocks.