February 10, 1939: The Death of Pope Pius XI, & February 11, 1929: The Signing of the Lateran Treaty
Here is Father’s Commentary:
A very significant event for the papacy that occurred in the 20th century was the signing of the Lateran Treaty in 1929.
Up until 1870, the Vatican owned territory that was referred to as the Papal States, which in essence, included the whole central portion of Italy. The Papal States’ territory was first assembled in the 6th century as a means of protection for the Church. These states ceased to exist in 1870 when the empire of Italy, in order to unify it, confiscated the land referred to as the Papal States.
And so from 1870 all the way to 1929, the popes were referred to as ‘the prisoner of the Vatican,’ because they each, in turn, refused to agree to the terms the new nation of Italy made. They did not recognize any authority by Italy over them. In turn, the Vatican was not recognized as a nation. Therefore, once elected pope, he lived and died in literally that small 108-acre enclave that surrounds Saint Peter’s Basilica, because he refused to leave. He claimed to be the head of state, but the state that was surrounding him didn’t recognize him as such.
So between 1870 and 1929, there was no coinage minted and no stamps made. There was nothing official that represented the Vatican City-State as an actual nation. But in 1929, because of growing political pressure, which had been mounting for decades, the nation of Italy and the Vatican together agreed upon terms that constituted what came to be known as the Lateran Treaty. It would have been, in essence, July 4, 1776 for us. It was signed on February 11, 1929 and ratified by Italy on June 7, 1929. It’s the day that the modern day Vatican City-State got its independence and was recognized as a nation.
So the artifact we have here is an original photograph of the signing of the Lateran Treaty. Everybody actually pictured in the photograph signed it—and that included everybody that had a significant role in the development of the Lateran Treaty.
It is an amazing piece and an amazing photo, and the fact that all the signatures are there makes it extraordinary. The signatories include:
Benito Mussolini: his signature is the boldest–a very strong signature on the top right. He signed on behalf of King Victor Emmanuel III.
Pietro Cardinal Gaspari: the Cardinal Secretary of State, who signed on behalf of Pope Pius XI. He is to the left of Mussolini in the center of the photo, wearing a biretta.
Monsigneur Pizzardo: who later was named cardinal. His is the top left signature.
Francesco Pacelli: the lawyer for Vatican City-State, and the brother of the next Pope, Pius XII. He is standing over the left shoulder of Mussolini.
This is a great piece of historical significance. Imagine if we had an image of everybody that signed the Declaration of Independence with their signatures! And so, this is incredible. It really is an historic item in regard to European history, because it’s not just about the Catholic part. It’s that the Vatican City-State was finally recognized as a nation. This historic treaty, signed by the Italian government and the Vatican, restored full political and diplomatic power to the Church. It made the Pope an independent, sovereign ruler of a nation, the papal state.
And so this photograph depicts the actual start of that nation.
A very desirable and very rare item.
In February of 1939, Pius XI convened all of Italy’s clergy in Rome to deliver a speech he had worked on for months. The speech denounced the violations of the Lateran Treaty by the Italian government and the racist persecutions by the German Reichstag. The night before he was to deliver the speech, Pius died of a heart attack. There was speculation that Benito Mussolini had him poisoned because he feared excommunication. This theory has never been proven.
Pius XI was considered an able and strident politician who could both smile and scream at dictators throughout the world but knew enough never to attempt a compromise with them.
St. Peter’s Basilica.org says the following about Pius XI:
The author of thirty encyclicals, he shed light on the social and spiritual problems of his day and was characterized by his refusal to yield to the evils that threatened to overcome the world in which he lived. Instead he chose to rally the forces of good.
Additional biographical information about Pope Pius XI may be found at Papal History/Pius XI including his burial site, a YouTube and coat of arms.
Papal Artifacts celebrates with gratitude the gift of his life to our Church.