Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Friday 27 November |
The Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

The Vatican once had a navy of its own

John Burger - published on 07/21/20

At one time, a sarcastic dictator might have asked, "How many warships does the pope have?"

The Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin once asked sarcastically, “How many divisions does the pope have?”

Of course, the bishop of Rome doesn’t have any military divisions. But there was a time when he had a navy.

It’s hard to imagine today: we don’t think of the Church as being “armed,” so to speak. But the history of the Papal Navy is tied up with the history of the Papal States.

“Historians believe the pontifical navy was established in the 10th century by Pope John VIII,” said Catholic News Service. “Popes Nicholas V and Sixtus IV sent military ships against the Turks during the Ottoman wars, and the ‘St. Bonaventure’ was commissioned by Pope Sixtus V to fight seafaring pirates in the 16th century.”

The fleet, consisting of armed frigates, corvettes, steamer ships and schooners, was beefed up when the Papal States were under considerable threat, first by the French in the 18th century and then by burgeoning Italian nationalism in the 19th century, the news service explained.

Armed papal ships guarded the Italian port of Civitavecchia and cruised the waters of the Adriatic and Mediterranean seas in search of contraband. Three paddle steamers built in England joined the fleet in 1842 to run upstream the Tiber River, a major route for bringing commercial goods and materials to Rome.

Another paddle ship joined the ranks, and in 1848 the ships were used to fight nationalist forces that sought to end the popes’ temporal power and establish a Roman Republic.

The pontifical navy came to an end with the end of the Papal States in 1870.

Even the U.S. Naval Institute examined the history of the Papal Navy. “Although it was not a large force at any time, this navy did more than its share to keep the peace in the Mediterranean Sea for about 1000 years,” the institute said. “In its time it rescued hundreds of thousands of Christians from slavery, convoyed merchantmen, guarded the coast against barbaric invasions, and sent expeditions to the relief of Christian settlements in the Holy Land.”

Tags:
Catholic history
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
LUXOR FILM FESTIVAL
Zoe Romanowsky
20-year-old filmmaker wins award for powerful...
FIRST CENTURY HOUSE AT THE SISTERS OF NAZARETH SITE
John Burger
British archaeologist confident he has found ...
PADRE PIO
Philip Kosloski
Padre Pio's favorite prayer of petition
CHRIST THE KING
Edifa
Why do we say that "Christ is King"?
VATICAN POPE GOOD FRIDAY COLOSSEUM
Kathleen N. Hattrup
Learn to pray with the early Church and to di...
Miguel Pro
Philip Kosloski
How Bl. Miguel Pro served his people during c...
CHRISTMAS,ADVENT WREATH,FAMILY
Theresa Civantos Barber
7 Advent traditions that are easy to do at ho...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.