Time your visit to the Vatican with one of the many spectacular events held each year by this small, but infamous city state, and make your trip unforgettable.
At the heart of Rome, the Vatican City is home to the Roman Catholic Church as is symbolised by St Peter’s Basilica. Not only the largest church in the world, the Basilica also houses the Pope at certain points throughout the year. It is here that the following list of events take place, all free to attend.
The events listed below are a mix of the key holidays and major celebrations held in the Vatican each year. Being the centre of Christianity, or more specifically Catholicism, these festivities are in line with the Vatican’s religious beliefs. Although visitors are welcome to such occasions, it is important to remain respectful on attendance, and to remember the religious importance of the celebrations.
Christmas Eve Midnight Mass (24 December 2019)
Another special time for the city-state, as St Peter’s square is decorated with a huge Christmas tree which lights up the plaza, and small nativity decorations are dotted around the city. As the most watched Christmas Mass around the world, this special Christmas celebration should definitely be planned in advance. The Midnight Mass which takes places on Christmas Eve is not actually held at midnight, but at 9:30pm. Being such a popular time of year, the Vatican advices people to apply for tickets 2-6 months in advance. If you’re unlucky in competing for such a high demand event, you can still watch the Mass on huge screens just outside St Peter’s Square. With a throng of people to join you, you’re still sure to get an incredible atmosphere and a sense of togetherness for this magical event.
New Year’s Parade (1 January 2020)
What better way to roll in the New Year than taking part in the New Year’s Parade on the 1st of January. Join the crowded streets and pageantry music as you receive the Pope’s New Year’s Day blessing, followed by a stationary performance in St Peter’s Square to celebrate the first day of the New Year. The route begins at Largo Giovanni XXIII, by the River Tiber, and follows the Vill della Conciliazione road, down to St Peter’s Square. By following the street which links Italy’s capital to the Vatican, the parade demonstrates a sense of solidarity and togetherness, the perfect message to welcome the turn of a New Year.
Papal Audience (Wednesdays year-round)
If the Pope is in Rome, a papal audience is held every Wednesday at 11am in St Peter’s Square, allowing the chance for pilgrims and other visitors to see the Pope and receive his blessing. You can collect your tickets the day before the mass at the Papal Household from 3pm onwards, or you can pick them up on the day, any time between 7 – 10am. Although the Papal Audience isn’t scheduled to start until 9:30am, many people arrive early (up to 3 hours before) to get a good seat, you might want to consider doing the same for your visit. This is a great way to experience the Vatican and the influence of the Pope, who conducts the mass in a series of small teachings, speaking as he does so in multiple languages to recognise those who have travelled far to see him. Following a united prayer and the Pope’s blessing, the crowds cheer and wave to the Pope, thanking him for his service. With much flag waving and singing, the service offers a truly uplifting atmosphere, for Christians and non-Christians alike. Check before you go whether the Pope is in Rome or not, as there may be times where he is away on a Pastoral Visit, in which case the Audiences will either not go ahead, or be held at Castel Gandolfo.
Easter (10 April – 13 April)
The Vatican City really comes alive in April for the celebration of Easter, or more appropriately for the resurrection of Jesus. The celebrations begin on Good Friday to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus and lasts until Easter Monday. If you’re looking to visit Rome during this time, be sure to book your accommodation in advance. Like the papal audience service described above, there is a similar Mass service that takes place on Good Friday, where the Pope leads Via Crucis, the Way of the Cross against the backdrop of the Colosseum. Held at around 9pm, this is a very touching and popular procession, where people hold torches and candles up the cross and the Pope, who gives his blessing. This is followed by an Easter Vigil Mass held inside St Peter’s Basilica the next day. Again, tickets are free, but with thousands of people attending trying to get one of the 15,000 seats inside the Basilica is still a push. However, you can still enjoy an intimate view of the event in St Peter’s Square where the Mass is screened. Finally, the last must-see event during this week is of course the Easter Sunday Mass held by the Pope in St Peter’s Square. Despite being able to hold a capacity of 80,000 people, the square is still full by the time the service starts at 10:15am. Even with tickets, your place in the square is not guaranteed, so be prepared to get there early to stand and wait. Again, like all the Pope’s services, he blesses the crowd and those who are suffering around the world.
Rome Choral Festival (June 2020)
Held for two weeks in June, Rome’s Choral Festival is a series of choir performances from mixed-voice singers from across North America who come together under the instruction of maestro Z. Randall Stroope. Going back to Italy’s musical heritage, these performances are all about musical stimulation, bringing together sight, sound and touch as glorious classical music fills the air. Although the festival tours throughout Italy, it includes a Mass participation at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. With such impressive scenery to complement the glorious and powerful singing from the choir, your trip to Vatican is sure to be unlike any other.
The International Festival of Sacred Music and Art (November 2020)
This Autumn festival brings together outstanding artists from across Italy, including the Vienna Symphony, an orchestra founded in 1842, and considered one of the finest in the world. Known in Italian as the Festival Internazionale di Musica ed Arte Sacra, the festival aims to enrich people spiritually with its music and promote the preservation of an artistic heritage that belongs to all mankind. It lasts for five days in October or November, with performances taking place in Rome’s most important churches, including St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. The festival hosts a variety of acts from solo artists to choirs, all performing classical music.
Looking for something to do after the event’s over? Then looking through our Morning Vatican and Sistine Chapel Tour, perfect if you want to escape the crowds.
Related article: Bernini and the Vatican