The Vatican Observatory (Specola Vaticana) is an astronomical research and educational institution supported by the Holy See.

The predecessor of the Vatican Observatory was Specola of Rome (College Observatory). In 1870, with the capture of Rome, the College Observatory fell into the hands of the Italian Government. After death of its director Angelo Secchi in 1878, though, the Observatory was nationalized by the Italian government and renamed the Regio Osservatorio al Collegio Romano ("Royal Observatory at the Roman College"), putting an end to astronomical research in the Vatican.

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued a Motu Proprio re-founding the Specola Vaticana (Vatican Observatory) and a new observatory was built on the walls at the edge of the Vatican. For this occasion a silver medal was issued. On the obverse of the 43.5 mm diameter and 37 gram medal the building of the observatory with its dome is visible on the center right. However more dominating the scene the standing Urania, the muse of astronomy holding a star-globe in her hand. She is leaning on a column that has a figure and text ("ANNO RESTITVTO MDLXXXII") that refers to the calendar reform that was promulgated in 1582. Actually the first observatory in the Holy See was established in 1578 and later Jesuit astronomers and mathematicians were called on to study the scientific data and implications involved in the reform of the calendar. A beautiful astrolabe is visible at the feet of Urania. Legend around is: "REI · ASTRONOM · HONOR · IN · VAT · INSTAVRATVS · ET · AVCTVS", i. e. established and expanded for respecting astronomical work in Vatican. Below is the date "MDCCCXCI", i. e. 1891.

Vatican 1 reverseVatican 1 obverse

The reverse shows the left facing portrait of the re-founder, Pope Leo XIII in his rich ornamented investiture. In legend is: "LEO · XIII · PONT · MAX · AN · XIV ·".

There is another medal depicting the observatory. Let me cite here the words of blogger 'brotherguy' (see box) about this second medal and its historical background.


...Where Leo XIII re-established the Vatican Observatory, it was under Pope Pius X that it finally came into its own.

In November of 1904, Pope Pius X appointed the archbishop of Pisa, Pietro Maffi, to reorganize the Specola and search for a new director. After more than a year of very delicate negotiations, in February 1906 the decision was finally made: the new director would be the Jesuit priest Johan Hagen (born in Austria, but by then an American citizen and director of the Georgetown Observatory in Washington).

At the suggestion of Monsignor Maffi, Pius X in 1906 very graciously put at the disposal of his astronomers his personal Villa (today the headquarters of the technical division of the Vatican Radio.) In the meridian room on the topmost floor of the little villa, the meridian telescope or the transit instrument for measuring sidereal time was placed. (Later on this instrument went out of use when a radio receiver for time signals to control the clocks was installed.) And the heliograph, a telescope that was the modern descendent of the meridian lines of times past, was placed on the terrace which today is the monastery of the cloistered nuns, Mater Ecclesiae.

On 17 November 1910, Pius X granted a special audience to the staff of the Specola to officially celebrate the new headquarters. The following year, as a commemoration of the eighth year of the pontificate of Pius X, the historical medal which was customarily coined each year in gold, silver and bronze and distributed to the members of the Papal Court and Ecclesiastical Dignitaries on the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, had inscribed on one side the allegorical figure of Astronomy speaking the words: Ampliorem. in. Hortis. Vat. Mihi. Sedem. Adornavit (“He has prepared for me a more ample seat in the Vatican Gardens”). Today near the entrance to the chapel of the Vatican Radio in the little villa of Leo XIII one can still see a plaque recalling the new housing of the Specola.


from brotherguy: Happy Solstice, from the Pope!


Vatican 2 obverse

Now the sitting muse of astronomy points at the observatory, while at this time a star-globe resides at her legs. The silver medal has a diameter of 43.8 mm and weight 36.5 gram. Legend is: "AMPLIOREM · IN · HORTIS · VAT · MIHI · SEDEM · ADORNAVIT", ("He has prepared for me a more ample seat in the Vatican Gardens"). Below: "A.MDCCCCXI", i. e. in the year 1911.

Vatican 2 reverse

The reverse shows the right facing portrait of Pope Pius X again in a rich ornamented investiture. In legend is: "PIVS · X · PONT · MAX · AN · VIII".