The documentary takes us inside the corridors and rooms of the Vatican where most people are never allowed to enter. We are treated to the voice of Martin Sheen explaining historical traditions and events associated with this small City-State.
The colorful Swiss Guard is the smallest army in the world. These 100 men have protected the Pope for 500 years. A candidate must be Swiss, Catholic and at least 5’8″ tall. They are both ceremonial and security officials. We first see the Swiss Guards at St. Anne’s Gate where they screen carefully those who enter. The uniform of the Swiss Guard is said to have been originally designed by Michaelangelo. It weights eight pounds and has 154 pieces sewn together.
At the time of the documentary, the Vatican was in preparation for the ordination of Monsignor Timothy Broglio as an Archbishop along with eight other men who were being ordained bishops. Monsignor Broglio has worked in the Vatican for 11 years and will take up the duties of Papal Nuncio when he is ordained. We then witness the ordination which takes place exactly when the Pope (John Paul II) lays hands on the candidates. Each Cardinal and Bishop present then also lays hands on the newly ordained. It is 1/8 of a mile from the back of the church up the aisle to the Altar. During the long procession we are shown through many marble corridors and rooms in the Vatican which are awesome.
The Pope’s official photographer is a man named Arturo Mari who has been in that role for 45 years. He is at the Pope’s Mass in the morning and then at breakfast where the Pope receives personages who have been at his Mass. Some are heads of countries; some are poor lepers whom the Pope kisses and hugs.
We are shown the Restoration Laboratories where centuries-old tapestries, paintings and statues are restored by artists and nuns who work incessantly on this never-ending process. A room full of 6000 different shades of thread is overseen by a group of nuns whose privilege it is to restore the old tapestries.
Another room contains fading manuscripts which are to be restored. We are shown the red waxed seals of these manuscripts which hang from a red tape. We are told that this feature is the origin of the term red tape. One whole section of wall holds the manuscripts with its red seals and tapes containing the pleas of hundreds of persons asking the Pope that Henry VIII be allowed to divorce his wife Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn.
The Vatican City-State is on 109 acres and has a population of 900 people. It was formed in 1929 through a treaty with the Italian government. The Vatican has its own police force, newspaper, postal service and soup kitchen. The cash machines (ATM) list their instructions in Latin.
There have been 265 Popes, many of whom have been unethical, immoral men. Alexander VI and Julian II both had illegitimate children. Pope Leo X was intent on renovating the Vatican and funded the project by the sale of indulgences to the faithful. This major scandal led to the Reformation in the 16th century.
It was a rare privilege to go inside the walls of the Vatican and to hear Martin Sheen tell us these stories. I was able to obtain this documentary from Netflix for which I am very grateful.
Documentary – National Geographic – Inside the Vatican (2001)