Throughout Europe's tumultuous history, this nation persevered.
It is easy to overlook San Marino on a map, as it is the third smallest country in Europe, only larger than Vatican City and Monaco. Nestled in the mountains of Northeastern Italy, this 24-square-mile territory has much that makes it singular: it is the only country in Europe with more vehicles than people; it is the oldest established country in Europe and, interestingly enough, it was founded by a saint.
St. Marinus was a stone mason who fled the island of Rab, now part of Croatia, to escape persecution of his Christian faith by the emperor Diocletian. Once in Italy, he was ordained a deacon by Bishop Gaudentius of Rimini; however, shortly after this he was accused by a madwoman of being her estranged husband. Marinus fled again and climbed Monte Titano, where he built a chapel and monastery and lived there as a hermit for the rest of his life.
Billy Ryan from UCatholic explains how this chapel became the center of what would become the State of San Marino.
For years, his monastery and the area around it grew until a sizable population of peaceful mountain people had grown, safe high in the mountains from the persecution of under Emperor Diocletian. When the mountain people were discovered, the landowner Felicissima bequeathed it to the small Catholic community in perpetuity, telling them to always remain united, a commandment held steadfast today.
The country was truly united by the last words of St. Marinus, “relinquo vos liberos ab utroque homine,” or, “I leave you free of both men.” The phrase, “both men” was in reference to the Roman emperor and the Papal States, as San Marino owed allegiance to neither. San Marino’s motto, LIBERTAS, is said to have been taken from St. Marinus’ final words.
Despite its size, for 1700 years San Marino has thrived. It was briefly in danger of invasion during the rise of Napoleon; however, one of its Regents, Antonio Onofri, gained Napoleon’s respect and thus Napoleon guaranteed their safety. They remained neutral throughout both World Wars and gave shelter to thousands of refugees after the fall of Mussolini.
Today, San Marino is one of the wealthiest countries in the world in terms of GDP (per capita), with a figure comparable to most developed European nations. Their economy is considered highly stable, and revolves mostly around tourism. They have no national debt and enjoy an economic surplus. They also have one of the lowest rates of unemployment on the continent.
The people of San Marino have stayed true to their faithful roots. Today more than 90 percent of the population is Catholic. Their national holiday is the feast day of St. Marinus, their patron saint, to whom they dedicate themselves.
While Abraham Lincoln was in office, San Marino named him an honorary citizen. Lincoln wrote to them in reply that, “government founded on republican principles is capable of being so administered as to be secure and enduring.”