The Reunifications of the Papal States were a series of successful attempts to reunify the broken Papal States in Italy and France by Pope Pius IX in 1872. The reunification lasted until 1981, after most of Europe, South America and parts of North America capitulated and were quickly annexed by the Holy See.
During the reunification of Italy, the Holy See lost its power over a substantial part of the Italian Mainland during the 1860 annexation. The Papal States, who still had control over Rome and much of the surrounding area, would ultimately surrender to the Kingdom of Italy in 1870. Pope Pius IX would describe the current state of the Vatican as a prison, surrounded on all sides by Italian Empire.
During this time period, Pius would declare a state of emergency for Catholics across the world. The decree that went out after the annexation of Rome by the Kingdom of Italy read:
"To Catholics, around the world: It is a troubling time for the Church on Earth. Today, the Kingdom of Italy has finally annexed Rome, of which, surrounds the Vatican, the seat of the Holy See. It is true that the Holy See has lost all but the Vatican to the Italian Empire, however, our great Lord will provide for us. We, the lambs must be faithful to the Shepard who lead us to safety. We will overcome, for God will give us strength. Fellow Catholics, I, Pope Pius IX would call upon all Catholics to pilgrimage to the Vatican in the coming weeks, months and years to show the resolve of the Catholic People."This decree would be published in every major newspaper in the world. In response to it, Catholics from all corners of the globe came to the Vatican to listen to speeches by the pope and his Holy Curia.
The Silent Reconstruction
The Silent Reconstruction was the name Pope Pius IX used to describe the military force used in the first reunification. Under the direction of Pope Pius, a militia of Catholic men, between the ages of 16-20, from Italy and France, formed. This militia, known as St. Peter's Servants, named after the first Pope, Peter, who would chosen by Jesus to lead the Church on Earth. The militia recruited and trained in secret in order to avoid detection by the Italians. The militia would amass roughly 26,000 men, historically one of the biggest flash recruitment ever, which occurred in the span of two months.
In order to keep suspicion low, the militia would train in a coveted Swiss Monastery, known as the Fahr Abbey. The militia would house and feed all 26,000 men at the monastery, which was a monastery for nuns for over 600 years before the militia would commandeer it. Most of the nuns were moved to the sister abbey, Einseideln, which housed monks. Some of the nuns, however, volunteered to stay back and help nurse for the militia, as well as cook and complete other household chores.
Most of the area inside the physical building of the monastery were used to house the injured and sick, as well as the officers and the nuns. On the outside, however, huge sections of the surrounding forest were cut down and used to build many different buildings, including a church, mess hall and armory. The barracks would be made of four tent cities, split up by language, Latin, Italian, French and English. The training ground featured a parade ground with a 6000-person grandstand, multiple different classrooms, shooting range, ammunition depot and factory (which employed locals), stable and a recreational area.
Response by the Italian Government
By late 1871, multiple reports of the training ground were relayed around the world by the news media, as well intelligence forces. The prime minister of Italy, Giovanni Lanza would call out the governments of the Holy See, France and Italian Revolutionaries, stating:
"It has become known to the His Majesty's Government of Italy that a militia is forming. Its purpose, is officially unknown. We do know, however, that this militia is being formed under Holy See, France and Italian Revolutionary banners. We urge that the training and formation of this militia cease at once."The Papal Legate to the Kingdom of Italy responded with:
"The Supreme Pontiff does not deny the formation of a militia under the banner of the Vatican, however, we can assure the government that this militia will not harm the Italian citizens and can assure the government that the militia will be used in the best interests of the Holy See and the Lord."
The Italian government would try and petition the Swiss government to destroy the training grounds, however, the Swiss government would outright deny the request because of the long standing relations with the Vatican and that the grounds were located on Church property. One last attempt was made by the Italian government, after 14 separate attempts, to stop the militia. The last ditch effort was known as the Turin wall. Under this legislation, a wall was to be quickly constructed on the northern border of Italy, and it would block trade with the Swiss, as well as the French. A centralized road from the gate to Turin was also to be constructed and patrolled heavily.
The Vatican issued a final decree in April 2nd of 1872 to the followers of the Catholic faiths it read very plainly:
"Our Lord will lead us, but we must have faith and the willingness to protect his domain on earth."Again, published in virtually every newspaper around the world, it was read by millions of Catholics world wide. It would later be discovered that this was the prepared code message that the militia was told to use for mobilization orders.
In under 48 hours of receiving the message, the militia had completely deconstructed the non-permanent parts of the training site and began marching towards the wall. The militia had originally planned to take over the wall by force, but upon arriving within 23 miles of the wall, they were informed by the Vatican to go around the wall, at which point they set up camp to discuss strategy. No one is sure why the Vatican would cancel the attack on the wall, but some theories are that they wanted to keep the element of surprise, or they feared losing to many personnel.
When morning came on the 7th, only one day after the stop outside the border, officers of the militia decided on a naval move towards the city, as well as a diversion that would come from the inside of the Vatican itself. The militia packed up and began marching through the night. It was decided by the officers that the militia would split up into the four groups they had previously done at the training camp and act as conveys of merchants, in order not to attract suspicion and alert French nationals with Italian sympathies. The 4 groups would arrive at Toulon, Marseilles, Nice and Monaco, in which they were to set sale on the 15th of April and head towards Bastia, on Corsica.
Upon arriving off the coast of the Island, the order was to construct barges that they would float down the Tiber in order to get closer to infiltrate Rome under the cover of night. 14, large capacity wooden barges were commissioned and built by 28th of April. The barges were to be towed to port by the various ships in the Armada. One of the barges would get struck on the two-day voyage to Idroscalo and had to be sunk.
On the arrival to Idroscalo, the barges would be tugged in by an Iron clad and docked on the bank of the Tiber. On the night of April 30th, the barges were towed up the Tiber, and in a Trojan Horse like fashion, they housed 3,000 or so men and the militias majority of munitions. Upon arriving in Rome, close to the Vatican Walls, the group quickly disembarked and unloaded the munitions. The group would carry the load up into the Vatican and store them inside the walls under the cover of the night. It has been noted that an unusually thick fog helped provide cover for the group, it was attributed as the Holy Ghost in some Vatican documents.
14,000 of the men were told to make their way to the Vatican under the ruse of attending Pentecost Mass at the Vatican on May 20th. The Church had arranged multiple different lodgings for the soldiers, including inside the Vatican itself. The remaining 9000 or so men were sent, armed with varying degrees of weapons, into Rome. They were told to hide in plain sight and wait until the 20th when the attack was suppose to begin.
The 9000 men would play a very crucial role in successfully retaking Rome. The known as the "Visibilia" were tasked with recruiting the people of Rome and surrounding area to riot when the time came. Some of these men would wait until the 20th, others would go as far as getting themselves arrested and persuading prisoners into revolting against the guard staff. The Visibilia were to be very careful not to disclose anything about the plans of the militia.
On May 19th, the eve of Pentecost, St. Peter's Servants began moving from across the city towards the Vatican for the Pentecost Vigil and Benediction. Pius had issued a "Porta Clausa" or closed door service, meaning that once the doors were closed, no one would enter or leave the walls of the Vatican. All of the militia that was supposed to be in the Vatican Walls were accounted for. Seeing this, the Pope enacted the Porta Clausa and the doors were locked. The Visibilia would wait on the outside until a red, yellow and blue flag would fly above the main portal into the Vatican. An additional flag would be flown on top of the Sistene Chapel, visible for all to see.