The Holy See

Brief History

The Holy See serves as the headquarters of the Roman Catholic church, and its history is as rich and complex as the history of the church itself. As the world’s smallest country, the Holy See is made up entirely of its capital city, Vatican City, which is itself surrounded by the city of Rome. It might seem more like a neighborhood than a country, but the Holy See is a sovereign state that was once a powerful kingdom. In 313 AD, the Roman emperor Constantine the Great gave legal status to the Catholic church and its properties, which can be considered the founding of the Holy See. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the properties of the pope were given special jurisdiction by the surrounding rulers. In 756, the Papal States were granted special lands and authority by the king of the Franks, and from then until 1870 the pope was both leader of the Catholic church as well as monarch over extensive territory and armed forces—ruling from what is now the Holy See. The French Revolution and the following Napoleonic wars weakened the Papal States, and the Italian reunification saw the Papal territories slowly shrink. In 1929, Pope Puis XI signed a treaty that gave up almost all of his territory, leaving only the small section of the city that remains today and is now ruled by the current pope.

National Flag

The current version of the flag of the Holy See was adopted on June 7, 1929. The flag is modeled after the old flag of the Papal States. The coat of arms of the Vatican City are depicted on the right half of the flag, with the Papal tiara and two keys, representing the keys of heaven.


The Holy See sits on a low hill called the Vatican hill within the Italian city of Rome. As a landlocked enclave, the Holy See shares its only border with Italy. Made up of buildings, a few city blocks, and extensive gardens, the Holy See contains no natural resources or landforms.

World Land Mass Ranking: 233rd

Highest Mountain: unnamed, 76 m (249 ft)

Longest River: none

Main Languages

Latin, Italian, French

Holy See Population: 825 (as of 2019)

Capital City: Vatican City

Capital City Population: 825 (as of 2019)


The Holy See has a classic Mediterranean climate, with cool winters and hot summers. Temperatures are mild for most of the year, making it a pleasant place to visit.

Key People

Pope Francis

Pope Benedict XVI

Giovanni Battista Re

Pietro Parolin

  • Cuisine

    The cuisine of the Holy See is identical to that of the Italian city that surrounds it. Pastas, seafood, cheeses, and olive oil are primary ingredients in many Roman dishes, with peas, artichokes, tomatoes, and fava beans as favorite vegetables. Food for the pope and his cardinals is prepared by Vatican chefs, who are ready to provide a range of different dishes depending on the occasion, from bread to pizza to soup. Deserts such as cakes, pastries, and gelato are also popular.

  • Sports

    The Holy See is too small to contain any sports arena or football field. Because of their small population, they do not send athletes to the olympics. Church officials living in the Holy See may be fans of sports, however, and some employees play games or sports in their free time. Pope Francis is well-known to be a football fan, cheering for his native country of Argentina.

  • Culture

    The Holy See is of vast cultural significance, especially to Christians. Roman Catholicism as a whole, as well as many different monastic orders, have their headquarters in the Vatican City. The population is entirely Catholic and predominantly male. Many of these inhabitants are unique in that they are able to speak Latin, an official language of the Holy See despite being an ancient language that is spoken almost nowhere else. The Holy See is home to fantastic churches and museums, including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Tourism is an essential aspect of Vatican culture, and people come from all over the world to see the magnificent art and architecture.

10 facts about The Holy See

1. The Holy See is the headquarters of the Catholic church.

2. The Sistine Chapel is the personal residence of the pope.

3. The Holy See is the smallest country in the world.

4. Some people do not even recognize the Holy See as a country.

5. The Holy See has an army, known as the Swiss Guard.

6. The Holy See is home to the world’s shortest railway.

7. The entire country is a UNESCO heritage site.

8. “See” means “seat” as in the seat of government.

9. Women make up just 5.5% of the population.

10. The Holy See is an elective monarchy.

Q&A Corner

1. Who is the ruler of the Holy See? +
2. When was the Holy See formed? +
3. What city surrounds the Holy See? +
4. What do the keys symbolize on the flag? +
5. What continent is the Holy See on? +
6. Name a key/famous citizen of the Holy See? +
7. Does the Holy See send athletes to the olympics? +
8. Name a famous building in the Holy See? +
9. What is one of Pope Francis’s favorite foods? +
10. How many people live in the Holy See? +