This page is part of © FOTW Flags Of The World website

Legislation and Precedence of the Holy See Flag - Vatican

Last modified: 2013-04-23 by rob raeside
Keywords: vatican | legislation | precedence |
Links: FOTW homepage | search | disclaimer and copyright | write us | mirrors

(1:1) image by Željko Heimer, 11 October 2004

See also:


The current (second) Constitution (Fundamental Law) of the State of the City of Vatican was published in "Acta Apostolicae Sedis" on 26 November 2000, and came into force on 22 February 2001.  The wording of Article 20 of this last is, however, identical to that of Article 19 in the first Constitution (the so-called Treaty of Lateran) dated 7 June 1929, and both read as follows:
"Article 20:
1. The flag of the City of the Vatican consists of two fields divided vertically, yellow field on the staff side and a white field on the other side, which bears the tiara and the keys, the whole following the model A annexed to the present law.
2. The shield shows the tiara with the keys, according to the model B annexed to the present law.
3. The seal bears in the centre the tiara and the keys, and on the circumference the words "Città del Vaticano"' [State of Vatican City], according to the model C annexed to the present law.  
Annex A - Official flag of the State of  Vatican City: Cloth divided per pale of yellow and white, the white charged amid with the crossed Keys surmounted by the Tiara.  Flagpole coated of gold, topped by a spearhead decorated by a cocarde in the same colours as the flag and gold fringed."  
And the illustration shows a square flag on a staff with a spearpoint finial (but no fringe) as did that in the 1929 Constitution.
According to both Annex A to the "Acta Apostolicae Sedis Supplemento per le Leggi e Dispozioni dello Sato dello Cita del Vaticano" - the so-called Treaty of Lateran - of 7 June 1929, and to Annex A of the recent Constititution, the arms are illustrated at exactly one-half of flag width as opposed to the one-third we show on fotw.  Interestingly enough, the apostolic arms as used on the flag show a height to width ration of 10:7. The "fringe" which I said did not appear on the flag, refers to a fringed cravat which does appear on both illustrations.
Christopher Southworth, 10 October 2004

Precedence of the Holy See Flag

An interesting question arose about the precedence of Holy See flag when displayed with other national flags. Normally, national flags are displayed in the alphabetical order of their nations' names. As I understand it, the Holy See is not a nation such, but is legally equivalent to one for diplomatic and legal purposes.
Should the Holy See flag be with the "H"s in the precedence, or at the end?
Would the answer depend on the context (secular vs. religious)?
Peter Ansoff, 17 June 2006

My understanding differs; it is a nation, the vestige of the old Papal States, and has ambassadors to and from it, as do Monaco, San Marino, and similar micro-states. In a display of national flags, I would alphabetize it under V (in English).
In a religious display, as in most Catholic churches, it stands junior to the US flag to the "sinister" of the altar/stage, as the Israeli does in some synagogues. Catholic churches as a rule do not display other flags.
Al Kirsch, 17 June 2006

An interesting parallel exists for the United Kingdom: foreign Ambassadors are accredited not to the UK, but to "The Court of St. James's"; that is, the 'seat' of sovereignty of Her Britannic Majesty. Nonetheless these ambassadors are, to all intents and purposes, equivalent to High Commissioners (from former British colonies), who are indeed accredited to the UK.
Now to the Vatican: foreign ambassadors are likewise accredited not to the Vatican City State, but to the Holy See (in Latin: Sancta Sedes), the 'seat' (Sedes) of sovereignty of His Holiness the Pope.
Just as the Union Jack is accorded the alphabetical precedence of the United Kingdom, not the Court of St. James's (however sovereign this entity might be), it makes sense to give the Vatican flag the alphabetical precedence of the Vatican City State, not the Holy See.
Miles Li, 17 June 2006

I was always under the impression that the official name of the political entity was 'Vatican City State' and that its flag should therefore be flown under the letter V. The term 'Holy See', as I understand it, is an ecclesiastical definition rather than a political one, and that therefore while it may be proper and indeed expected for political entities which are or have been traditionally Roman Catholic either in their religious identity or in the religious composition of the majority of their populations, or where the Roman Catholic Church has enjoyed a special legal position, then it would be proper for such a country to fly the Vatican flag under the letter 'H' if indeed English was the official language (although I cannot think of such a country in which English is the official language except possibly the Republic of Ireland, where it is 'an' rather than 'the' official language), where the above would be applicable. Indeed, most countries in which the Roman Catholic Church has previously enjoyed or still enjoys a special legal status or in which the majority of the population are Roman Catholics, the term 'Holy See' would be given in its Latin form, 'Sancta Sedes', and its flag would therefore be displayed unmder the leter S.
Ron Lahav, 17 June 2006

The international legal entity is the Holy See. However, the flag is not technically the flag of the Holy See but that of the State of Vatican City--the legal instrument defining it is the fundamental law of the State of Vatican City, the text of which says "The flag of the City of the Vatican consists of two fields divided vertically.... etc."
I would say that when this flag is displayed with other national flags, it should be alphabetized (assuming it's in an English- speaking country) between Vanuatu and Venezuela.  I'm not sure what other context would call for its appropriate display with other non- host-country national flags.
Joe McMillan, 17 June 2006

An ambassador is never accredited to another *country* or from another country, even if he/she for all intents and purposes is ambassador to that country, but to the *head of state* of that country from the head of state of his own country. Hence, e.g., in Sweden, H.M. the King still formally sends out to and receives the ambassadors from foreign lands, even if he has no real political role according to the Swedish constitution of 1974. This is his duty as head of state according to international law.
Elias Granqvist, 17 June 2006

The only precedent that I can offer is the U.S. State Department lobby which I visited some years ago.  There the flags of nations with whom the U.S. maintains diplomatic relations, are displayed in alphabetical order.  At that time, the Vatican flag appeared under "H" for Holy See, not "V" for Vatican City.  The Vatican flag is not displayed at the U.N. in New York, because the Holy See is not a voting member, but rather a permanent observer with certain member privileges.
Rev. Dr. William M. Becker, Pastor, 17 June 2006

If you look at membership/observer lists of various international organizations, Vatican City is always listed as Holy See (IAEA, WIPO, WTO, ILO). The only exceptions are the Universal Postal Union and the ITU where it is listed as Vatican City.
Vatican City is not a member of the United Nations. The membership was offered to the pope in 1945 and 1946, but he refused because the state/church wanted to be as neutral as possible. The Holy See is however an observer (as territorial entity) and is allowed to participate in all conferences and meetings.
Maxim van Ooijen, 17 June 2006