When you visit the Vatican, you’ll undoubtedly be awestruck by its beauty and scale – and the chances are you may also pick up on the feeling of mystery and intrigue. I know that I still do. I think this is a result of the Vatican’s intricate history, as well as its unique setting and atmosphere – not to mention all the legends and mysteries that have become connected to it. It’s these tales of intrigue that really capture the imagination of our guests when I tour the Vatican. Here’s a taster of some of those tales, ahead of your own visit:
The Vatican Archives
The Vatican Archives are the source of its many legends and mysteries. For centuries they were secret, but in 1881, 52 miles of files and materials were opened to outsiders. Alas, it is only part of the archive that was opened up. Sections still remain secret. You can’t simply peruse these shelves either, solving mysteries as you wander. Before gaining access, you must know what you seek; in other words, you need to state what it is you want to study. For many, both of these aspects have simply added to the intrigue and the belief that more mysterious information lies within the Vatican.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing stories about what’s inside the archives are the claims that they hold documents that are linked to Jesus Christ. For instance, some legends suggest the Vatican Secret Archives hold documents that relate to his life – including the order that led to his crucifixion. Others hint at there being a document that contains the date of the second coming! All these possibilities add more to our fascination with the Vatican’s mysteries.
Vicarius Filii Dei
Rather more chilling are the mysteries connected to the Devil. One such story is based on the idea that the papal tiara has the words Vicarius Filii Dei – Latin for the Son of God – inscribed upon it. When those letters have the Roman numeral value applied, and are then added – they produce the number 666, which according to the Bible is ‘the Number of the Beast’. However, subsequent examinations of the tiara are said to disprove this tale.
The Legend of Pope Joan
For sheer drama, the legend of Pope Joan is one of the Vatican’s most prominent mysteries. Pope Joan was said to be the first and only female Pope. Joan was an accomplished scholar, who disguised herself as a monk. Thanks to her academic prowess, she progressed through the ranks of society – and it would seem – right to the top of the church, all the while disguised as a man. Apparently, during her time as Pope, she became pregnant. She later gave birth in the most public of circumstances when she fell from a horse during the Easter procession – and gave birth on the streets of Rome. Clearly, at that point her secret identity was uncovered. She was stoned to death and her existence apparently removed from the Vatican Archives. By the Seventeenth century historians were arguing that this was nothing more than an elaborate and far-fetched story. But was it?
The Vatican has courted mysteries and legends right up until the present day – and the interest in them is huge. They have attracted millions of visitors, and fuelled bestselling books and blockbuster films. Whether such stories are legends or conspiracy theories, they will remain fascinating since they make us analyse and question the power, history, and even the authority of one of the most powerful organisations on earth.
If you’d like to experience the Vatican for yourself, then come join our tours of the Vatican when you visit Rome. Gray Line I Love Rome offer a variety of options – from visiting the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica – you’ll be able to uncover its stories and mysteries in the company of our experienced and knowledgeable guides. We’ll also ensure that you don’t have to wait in line, since all our tickets are ‘skip the line’. Please get in touch if you have any questions!
We thoroughly look forward to welcoming you to Rome!