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What Language Do They Speak in Vatican City?

What Language Do They Speak in Vatican City

Key Takeaways

Official Language:Latin
Commonly Spoken Languages:Italian, Latin, English
Languages for Official Documents:Latin
Popular Language for Tourism:English
Population of Vatican City:Approximately 800

Vatican City, known as the heart of the Roman Catholic Church and the smallest independent state in the world, has a linguistic heritage that reflects its significant religious and cultural role.

A Brief Introduction to Vatican City

Vatican City, or the Holy See, is an independent city-state enclaved within Rome, Italy. This walled enclave of only 44 hectares has a unique status, both religiously and politically. It’s the spiritual and administrative center of the Roman Catholic Church and serves as the residence of the Pope, the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church.

Languages of the Holy See

Official Language: Latin

Latin is the official language of Vatican City. Although not spoken in daily communication by the majority of its residents, it holds a special place as the liturgical language of the Church and the language of its official documents.

Why Latin?

  • Historical Roots: Latin was the dominant language of the Roman Empire, from which the Roman Catholic Church evolved.
  • Unifying Force: As the Catholic Church expanded globally, Latin served as a universal language, ensuring consistent liturgical practices across various regions.
  • Preservation of Knowledge: The use of Latin preserves the rich theological, legal, and liturgical texts of the Church.

Commonly Spoken Languages

While Latin is the official language, other languages are more commonly spoken in daily life.

LanguageUsage Description
ItalianDominant spoken language, especially among the lay workers and officials.
EnglishUsed extensively, especially for communication with international visitors and diplomats.
OtherLanguages like Spanish, French, and German are spoken by some clergy and visitors.

The Role of Latin in Vatican City

  1. Official Documents: Almost all official Vatican documents are written in Latin. This includes papal encyclicals, documents from Vatican Councils, and the Code of Canon Law.
  2. Liturgical Texts: Latin is used for official liturgical texts, although local languages are typically used for day-to-day religious services worldwide.
  3. Latin Classes: Given its importance, many within the Vatican, including the clergy, take Latin classes to improve their proficiency.

The Decline and Revival of Latin

There was a time when Latin was the primary language for all religious ceremonies in the Roman Catholic Church. However, with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Church authorities permitted the use of vernacular languages in the Mass, leading to a decline in the daily use of Latin.

Nevertheless, efforts to revive Latin have been consistent. The Vatican has:

  • Founded the Pontifical Academy of Latin in 2012 to promote the study and use of the language.
  • Introduced the “Latinitas Foundation” to publish dictionaries, guidelines, and other Latin resources.

Other Languages in Vatican City

  • Italian Influence: Given its location within Rome, Italian culture and language heavily influence daily life in Vatican City. The majority of Vatican City’s inhabitants speak Italian, and it’s also the primary language used for communication within various departments and media outlets, such as Vatican Radio.
  • Multilingualism: Vatican City is a melting pot of languages. This is because it is home to clergy from around the world. Apart from Italian, English, French, Spanish, and German, you might hear Portuguese, Polish, Ukrainian, and many other languages spoken by visitors and residents alike.
  • English for Tourism: With millions of tourists visiting Vatican City every year, English is widely used in areas frequented by tourists, such as the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica.


Vatican City, while the smallest state globally, is a linguistic treasure trove. Its dedication to preserving Latin, combined with the natural influence of Italian and the cosmopolitan influx of numerous languages from visiting clergy and tourists, makes it a fascinating study in linguistic diversity.

So, if you ever find yourself in this majestic city-state, listen closely. The whispers of ancient Latin might just mix with the modern hum of languages from every corner of the globe.