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 Vatican Stamps

Issues of 1935-1940

The commemorative and definitive Vatican stamps issued between 1935 and 1940 celebrate important people and events in Church and World history, as well as the proclamation of a new Pope.

The six pictorial Vatican City stamps shown above (Sc. #41-46) were issued on February 1, 1935 to honor the the International Juridical Congress, held in Rome during 1934.

The two common designs are as follows.

  • A Tribune presenting the compendium of Roman Civil Law to Emperor Justinian I (Lived: 482-565, Emperor: 527-565).
  • Pope Gregory IX (Lived: 1145-1241, Pope: 1227-1241) issuing his decree that instituted the Papal Inquisition.

The International Juridical Association (1931-1942) was an organization of socially minded lawyers that championed civil rights, immigration, and labor law issues.

The eight pictorial commemorative Vatican stamps shown above (Sc. #47-54) were issued on June 22, 1936 to publicize the Catholic Press Association World Exhibition, held in Vatican City.

The four common designs are as follows.

  • Bells and Doves of Peace.
  • Allegory of Church and holy books.
  • St. John Bosco (1815-1888).  He was A Roman Catholic priest, educator, and writer, and he dedicated his life to the betterment and education of street children, juvenile delinquents, and other disadvantaged children.  He was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1934.
  • St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622).  He was a Bishop of Geneva, noted for his gentle nature and his writings on spiritual direction and spiritual formation.  He is honored as a saint in both the Anglican and Catholic Churches.  He is the patron saint of the Catholic Press Association.

The Catholic Press Association, founded in 1911, is an association of print media professionals dedicated to reporting on the Roman Catholic Church.  The goal of its members is to support the social, intellectual, and spiritual needs of families and to spread the holy doctrine.

The six pictorial commemorative Vatican City stamps shown above (Sc. #55-60) were issued on October 12, 1938 to publicize the International Christian Archeological Congress, held in Rome.

The two common designs, depicting views of the Catacombs beneath Rome, are as follows.

  • Crypt of St. Cecilia (d. 230) in the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, also known as Pope Callixtus I (d. 223).  The remains of several of the Popes from the 2nd to the 4th Centuries have been found there.
  • Basilica of Saints Nereus and Achilleus in the Catacombs of St. (Flavia) Domitilla (d. circa 90).  And yes, this is the Flavia Domitilla, who was the daughter of Flavia Domitilla the Younger (c. 45-66), and the granddaughter of the Roman Emperor Vespasian (Lived: 9-79, Reigned: 69-79) and his wife, Flavia Domitilla the Elder (d. circa 69).

The Catacombs of Rome are a network of about 40 subterranean structures, usually located along the main roads outside of the walls of the Ancient City of Rome.  They were primarily used for burial places and for safe places of worship by early Christians.  The catacombs are ornately decorated, and they contain vital historical information about Christianity in the 1st and 2nd Centuries.  There are also Jewish Catacombs, from this same era, underneath the City of Rome.

Burying bodies inside of the City of Rome was forbidden by Roman Law.  The Roman custom had always been to cremate the dead and then store the ashes in urns.  The Christians, however, considering Resurrection, buried their dead in the ground, in ossuaries, or in tombs, depending on their financial capabilities.

The Catacombs of St. Callixtus, near the Appian Way, were built during the 2nd Century, and they extend for almost twelve miles.  The arcades, within the catacombs, contain the remains of over fifty martyrs and of sixteen Popes.

The Catacombs of St. Domitilla are located near the Appian Way, and they extend for almost nine miles!  These catacombs contain almost 150,000 bodies!

The Catacombs of Rome fell into disuse at the end of the 3rd Century, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

The seven overprinted definitive Vatican stamps shown above (Sc. #61-67) were issued on February 20, 1939 for the Interregnum, following the death of Pope Pius XI on February 10, 1939.

The overprint consists of the Papal Crown and the inscription "SEDE VACANTE" (VACANT THRONE) / MCMXXXIX (1939).

A rare variety of the 30 C. denomination exists in a pair, with one of the stamps having a missing overprint.

The four pictorial Vatican stamps shown above (Sc. #68-71) were issued on June 2, 1939 to commemorate the Coronation of Pope Pius XII on March 12, 1939.

The five new definitive stamps shown above (Sc. #72-76) were issued on March 12, 1940.  These definitive stamps are engraved on watermarked paper, and they are perforated 14.

The two common designs feature the Coat of Arms of Pope Pius XII and the portrait of Pope Pius XII.

Rare varieties of the 5 C. and 1.25 L. denominations exist imperforate.

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Issues of 1935-1940


Pope Pius XII

Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli (1876-1958) was proclaimed Pope Pius XII on March 2, 1939.

While Vatican City was "officially" neutral during World War II, Pope Pius XII maintained links to the German Resistance, aided victims of the war, lobbied for peace, and spoke against race based murders and other wartime atrocities.  Pius XII secretly urged churches in Northern and Eastern Europe to hide Jews that were fleeing the Nazis.  He was also a staunch opponent of Communism. 

As was the case with the previous Pope, Vatican City has immense spiritual and moral authority over the Christian populations of the World, however they have little political power, and they have no military power.  There was little Pope Pius XII could have done to stop the human tragedy that was unfolding across Europe.  In fact, had he tried to make a media spectacle of the issue, publicly attacking the perpetrators, it may have resulted in making the level of suffering even worse for the victims.

Pope Pius XII died on October 9, 1958, after a reign of nineteen years.