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Top 5 ​Surprising Facts About the Vatican​

VO: Chris Masson

Written by William Regot

Vatican City, the smallest sovereign state in the world, home of the pope, is a country shrouded in opulence and mystery. What kind of a place actually has Latin as an official language? Yup, Pope Francis just chills in Saint Peter's Basilica all day, waxing his popemobile, fretting about Vatican City's weirdly high crime rate. (Or, at least, that's what we like to imagine.) In this episode of Top 5 Facts, we pull back the curtain on some of the most interesting facts about this historical place.

Thanks to our users Kasel Lasam and ninou78 for submitting this idea using our interactive suggest tool: WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Written by William Regot

Top 5 Vatican Facts

Established as an independent nation in 1929, Vatican City is a country shrouded in opulence and mystery. Welcome to WatchMojo’s Top 5 Facts. In today’s installment, we’re counting down five interesting facts about the Vatican, the official residence of the pope and central home of the Catholic Church.

#5: Vatican City Has the World’s Highest Crime Rate

...when measured per capita, that is. This is because the Vatican has a small population of roughly one thousand yet attracts a large number of visitors from all around the world. With this massive influx of outsiders, there are more crimes committed than there are actual people living in the country. The large crowds that gather in such a small area make it the perfect place to commit petty crimes such as pick pocketing or shoplifting. The Vatican has no prisons within the country, so when a perpetrator is found guilty of a serious crime, they’re sent to an Italian prison to serve out their sentence, an arrangement made when the country was founded.

#4: There Has Only Been One Reported Murder in The Vatican

In 1998, a commander of the Swiss Guard, Alois Estermann, and his wife were shot by fellow Swiss Guard Cedric Tornay, who then turned the gun on himself. The Church investigated the case and came to the conclusion Tornay murdered Estermann because he was denied a promotion. However, it is rumored that Tornay and Estermann were gay lovers, which may have been a relevant factor in the murder. Yet others believe the Catholic Church was behind the murder because the Church supposedly wanted a regime change within the Swiss Guard, which is the de facto military of Vatican City. For its handling of the matter, the Church has been accused of being non-transparent and possibly covering up a conspiracy.

#3: Vatican City Is the First Carbon Neutral State

In 2007, under Pope Benedict XVI’s direction, the Vatican made some changes that would bring its carbon footprint to zero. They installed more than 2,000 solar panels on the roofs of buildings to take care of energy needs such as heating and cooling, and the Vatican Bank bought a forest in Hungary as a carbon offset. In 2011, the Vatican announced a deal with Mercedes to develop the first ever hybrid popemobile, though it’s not clear if they ever followed through on that. However, their security force does have at least one electric vehicle.

#2: The Vatican Archives Is a Historical Who’s Who

The Vatican Archives is a private vault which contains significant historical items from various periods of time. Everything from the official document where Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther for writing the 95 theses, to letters from Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis addressed to Pius IX. There’s even a letter from Michelangelo telling Pope Julius II that the pope was behind on his payments to his guards, and they were going to walk out unless he paid up. Snitches get stitches, Michelangelo. Only the pope gets to choose which documents make it into the archives, and only a select group of people are allowed access to the documents– ahem, the illuminati, ahem.

#1: The ATMs Speak Latin

Latin is the official language of the Catholic Church, and the Vatican wants it to become a living language with practical, everyday use. Hence, making all automatic tellers operated by the Vatican Bank offer the option of being served in Latin. As part of their efforts, they’ve published a dictionary, Lexicon Recentis Latinitas, which has Latin translations for words such as “rush hour,” “baseball,” and “blue jeans.” And in 2012, Pope Benedict opened up a Pontifical Academy whose exclusive focus was to teach Latin so that new generations could properly learn the language. The academic study of a historical language is all well and good, but in 2005, knowing Latin became a serious issue; an American lawsuit against the Vatican that sought damages for sexual assault victims was held up for months as the Vatican disputed the validity of the suits’ translation into Latin.

So, what did we leave out? What do you think is the most interesting fact about the Vatican? For more infallible Top 10s and supposedly hybrid Top 5s published every day, be sure to subscribe to

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