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The White and Yellow of the Papal Flag

Elaine Jordan

Papal flag Montreal
Recently the Osservatore Romano ran an article explaining the story behind the white and yellow colors of the Vatican Flag. The change of colors – from red and yellow to yellow and white has a beautiful meaning that symbolizes loyalty to the Papacy.

Before Napoleon’s invasion of the Pontifical States, its flag was bicolor - red and yellow - at times bearing the tiara and the keys. The Napoleon years, however, were difficult ones for the Holy See, whose power was constantly being reduced by the French State. In 1797, the French troops had occupied Rome, seized Pope Pius VI and taken him off to captivity in France, where he died in 1799.

At the beginning of his reign, Pope Pius VII was at first conciliatory toward Napoleon, signing the Concordat of 1801 that made many bad concessions to the French government. But relations rapidly deteriorated as Napoleon made clear his aim to usurp the spiritual as well as temporal authority of the Pope. In February 1808, he ordered his French General Miollis with 10,000 troops to take and occupy Rome. One month later the General commanded that the Pontiff’s army should be incorporated into his own.

Papal Flag White House

The Vatican flag hangs at the White House for the papal visit - April 2008
Pope Pius VII forcefully resisted this order. On March 13, 1808, he ordered that the Vatican troops that remained loyal to him should replace the Roman insignia colors with white and yellow so that they would not be confused with the pontifical soldiers who entered under French command, carrying the red and yellow colors. This document, sent in writing three days later to the diplomatic corps, is considered to be the act creating the colors of the current flag of Vatican City.

The story reminds us of the importance of the papal troops that defended both the spiritual and temporal rights of the Papacy.

Posted on August 2, 2008


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