Pope Pius XI: Inscribed Photograph of St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, c.1930, by Guglielmo Marconi

Pope Pius XI: Inscribed Photograph of St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, c.1930, by Guglielmo Marconi

Pope Pius XI: Inscribed Photograph of St Peter's Basilica, Rome, c.1930 by Guglielmo Marconi

Father Richard Kunst, Curator

I purchased this because of who signed it: Guglielmo Marconi was the inventor of the radio who also was asked by Pope Pius XI to establish the Vatican radio station. 

The association of the image of St. Peter’s with the first radio towers is what makes it appropriate for the collection.

(The photograph was inscribed to I. S. Munro, an important Scottish journalist. You may scroll down to see information about him.)

Ahead of International Marconi Day and 150 years since his birth, we recall the rich legacy of Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor-entrepreneur who set up Vatican Radio in 1931 and installed a ‘big cell phone’ in Pope Pius XI’s car that connected to the Vatican.

By Michele Raviart & Devin Watkins

Guglielmo Marconi was born at the Marescalchi Palace in Bologna on April 25, 1874.

His father, Giuseppe, was a landowner from Italy’s Emilia province, and his mother, Annie Jameson, had come to Italy to study “bel canto” singing. She was Irish, a UK citizen, and the granddaughter of the founder of the famous Jameson whiskey distillery.

Among his many experiments, Marconi invented the first radio that could broadcast beyond line-of-sight in 1895.

After receiving the first patent for his “wireless telegraph” in England, Marconi established the London-based “Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company,” later the Marconi Company.

Two years later, he opened a branch in the United States, which was later sold to General Electric and became RCA. By the end of his life, Marconi held 70 patents.

Nobel prize for life-saving invention

He received the Nobel Prize in Physics, along with the German scientist Karl Ferdinand Braun, for the “contribution to the development of wireless telegraphy.” He accepted it in December 1909 in Stockholm, at 35 years old.

His radio technology became mandatory on all ships across the globe after Mayday radio calls helped save over 720 people in the tragic sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

In 1922, Marconi inaugurated a new radio station in London out of which, by order of the British government, the BBC was born.

Then, on February 12, 1931, Pope Pius XI became the first Pope to address the world via radio, saying, in Latin: “In arcano dei consilium, succidimus in loco principis apostolorum.”  (“In the secret counsel of God, we fell in the place of the chief apostles.”)

At the Pope’s request, Marconi had personally set up Vatican Radio, which in 2015 was incorporated into the newly-created Dicastery for Communication and lives on as the radio broadcaster of the Holy See.

Marconi’s ‘big cell phone’ for the Pope

Among his other inventions, Marconi created a “big mobile phone” that connected Pope Pius XI’s car with the Vatican and the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, near Rome.

Many years later, Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, told participants at a conference in the United States, “Marconi is our roots. We are the branches.”

After him, Sir Martin Cooper, who invented the hand-held mobile phone as we know it today, said, “Actually, my invention, the small mobile phone, descends from Marconi’s intuition and from Marconi’s big cell phone.”

Radios fell silent at his death

On July 20, 1937, Guglielmo Marconi died in Rome from one of his frequent heart attacks.

Radios around the world, increasingly present in public spaces and in people’s homes, simultaneously interrupted their broadcasts for two whole minutes.


Pope Pius XI & Creation of Vatican Radio Station: Guglielmo Marconi


The photograph was inscribed to ‘Al Sig. I. S. Munro (from) Guglielmo Marconi to the Morning Post’

Ion Smeaton Munro (1883-1970) was a journalist and decorated army officer of Scottish origin. He served as Rome correspondent of Glasgow’s Morning Post from 1922 to 1937, becoming press attaché at the British embassy in 1938, and head of the Italian section at the Ministry of Information on the declaration of war in 1939, before rejoining the army (having served with the Glasgow Territorials in the Great War) in 1941.

When the invasion of Italy was being prepared he flew to North Africa, later entering Rome with the liberating army in June 1944. He was a chief press officer during the Italian campaign, and when demobilized he became press liaison officer in the Foreign Office conference department specially concerned with UN affairs in London.

In the 1946 New Year honors list, Lieutenant-Colonel Munro was awarded the OBE (Military) for “gallant and distinguished service in

February 12, 1931: The Day Vatican Radio Was Born
  • Date July 8, 2024
  • Tags Photographs, Pius XI