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Celebrations to Mark Centenary of Re-establishment of Relations

Cardinal Vincent concelebrated Mass at St Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome on 3 December 2014 to mark the centenary of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the United Kingdom.

Principal celebrant for the Mass was Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State of the Holy See responsible for its political and diplomatic functions, who described the occasion as ‘a very important anniversary’. The Queen was represented by The Rt Hon Baroness Anelay of St Johns and the UK Ambassador to the Holy See, Mr Nigel Baker.

Following the break from Rome by Henry VIII, diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of England and the Holy See were broken in 1536. They were briefly revived in 1553 when Queen Mary, a Catholic, was monarch but during the reign of Elizabeth I, relations were once again severed and thereafter, English law prohibited any official relations with the Papal States.

Although there had been British representatives in Rome since the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, formal relations between the United Kingdom, as it had become by that stage, and the Holy See were not re-established until December 1914, a move the British Government felt was necessary to ensure that the Vatican was not over-influenced by German and Austrian policies in the area. However, in order to make the impression this diplomatic mission was temporary in nature it was titled ‘Special Mission to the Vatican’. It was only in 1923 that the mission's title was changed to ‘His Majesty's Legation to the Holy See’.

In 1962, the Queen made her first visit to the Vatican where she was hosted by Pope St John XXIII. She has since made three further visits to the Vatican – in 1980 and 2000 where she was welcomed by Pope St John Paul II and in 2014 when she was hosted by Pope Francis.

Full diplomatic relations were confirmed in 1982 with the visit of Pope St John Paul II to Britain. This was also the first year that the UK and the Vatican sent ambassadors to each other. In 2010, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI made the first official state visit of a Pope to Great Britain further strengthening relations.

The Holy See's Nunciature to Great Britain is the diplomatic post of the Holy See whose representative is called the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain with the rank of an ambassador. The office of the nunciature is located in Wimbledon, south London.

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