Vatican Flag Info You Won’t Hear From Your Guide
The Holy See Vatican City Flag has been in formal existence since the founding of the Vatican City state in 1929, although elements of it existed before this.
The Vatican flag with keys on it and a yellow band on the left-hand side has become recognisable as a symbol of this little country in Rome.
In this short guide we will give you everything you need to know about the Vatican Flag symbolism, a bit of its history and a few useful facts.
Who Designed the Vatican Flag?
The Vatican flag has existed in several forms throughout the history of the catholic church.
Numerous Vatican states used some sort of symbolic flag throughout the ages, culminating in a formal flag design enshrined in the Vatican city constitution.
Vatican Flag Throughout History
The current flag of the Vatican City was designed in several stages. The papal states had originally used a flag with yellow and red colors. Pope Pius VII then requested that the red be removed and replaced with white.
This existed in various forms – the Vatican’s navy for example used the yellow and white but on a diagonal and added green and red ties.
In 1849 Pope Pius IX ordered the yellow and white to be oriented vertically and the Vatican coat of arms was added, creating the flag we know today.
Vatican Flag Meaning & Symbolism
The Vatican City Flag meaning is often discussed – especially as it represents a sovereign state.
The yellow color represents the golden key that you see on the flag, and the white part of the flag represents the silver key. Why 2 keys in Vatican flags you ask? Well, they represent the keys to heaven that Jesus gave to Saint Peter.
These powerful Vatican City flag symbols therefore have a special religious meaning, and they are also the coat of arms of the pope.
The silver key is a symbol of the worldly, whilst the golden key represents the power of the spiritual realm. The combination of the Vatican City flag colors offset with the keys are known to break an unwritten rule about how flags should be designed.
But the Holy See doesn’t care – they just answer to God! The papal crown is also depicted on the flag, representing the pope’s power.
Why Is the Vatican City Flag Square?
You may notice the shape of the papal flag is a bit odd – it is completely square. That’s how it differs from other flags of nation states.
There are only two other square nation state flags in the world – that of nearby Switzerland, and much further away Nepal. Interestingly, there is no law that your flag has to be square.
But most countries choose a rectangular shape – because the flag will fly nicely in the wind.
Interesting Vatican City Flag Facts
- The flag has only officially been in use since the 7th June 1929, when the Vatican City became an official country.
- The keys to heaven were given to Peter by Jesus – Peter was the first pope, so it is fitting that the symbol of the keys is used on the pope flag nowadays
- The flag can be seen not only in Italy, but flying in catholic churches all over the world.
- When a pope dies, the flag is lowered for the mourning period – usually around 9 days
Does The Vatican Flag Change?
Whilst the ceremonial papal flag is square, there is nothing to stop a rectangular shaped flag being flown.
You may see therefore a rectangular flag flown when you visit the Vatican City. However, the Vatican Flag is described formally in the Vatican City Constitution.
It’s description has changed very little in the several iterations of the constitution that have come since 1929.
And apart from the standard coat of arms of the Pope on the yellow and white flag, there are several other flags associated with the Vatican city:
- The military arms of the Swiss Guard – consisting of red, yellow and blue colors – which is still in use to this day
- Numerous and different flags that have been used as banners throughout the history of the catholic church. Papal banners for example are usually triangular in shape.
- One papal flag in the 1700s actually had a bear on it…
Other Important Symbols of the Vatican City
The Vatican flag is not the only important symbol to be connected with this powerful yet very small country.
The papal insignia is an important symbol of the church, and includes the Ring of the Fisherman, which shows St Peter fishing, as well as the outfits the pope wears on a daily and ceremonial basis.
This can include the white cassock and skull cap, or more formal dress for special occasions. Each pope also has their own coat of arms.
Tip – But perhaps the most powerful symbols of the Vatican City are its buildings – St Peter’s Basilica being the most recognisable worldwide.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we receive about the Vatican Flag.
What does the Vatican City flag represent?
The papal flag is known to represent a link between the earthly and the heavenly, and the importance of the current pope.
What do the keys on the Vatican flag stand for?
The gold key represents the heavenly realm, whilst the silver key stands for the earthly.
What do the symbols on the Vatican flag mean?
The keys on the Vatican flag symbolize the keys of St Peter - the keys to heaven. The power of the pope is represented by the papal tiara.
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Fanny, a devoted art enthusiast and world traveler, has been exploring Vatican City’s treasures since 2012. As the founder and chief editor of the Visit Vatican blog, she’s dedicated to sharing the finest cultural and historical experiences of this iconic destination.