The Italian Almanac

Vatican City

The Enforcing of Modesty

Tourists and Romans clad in scanty summer clothing were being told to cover up before entering the Vatican City. Long-standing rules on modest dress, previously applicable only to those visiting St Peter's Basilica, appear to have been extended throughout the tiny walled state.

Swiss Guard officers manning the official customs point between Rome and the Vatican City began pulling aside members of the public dressed in 'inappropriate' clothing early in the morning. Men in shorts and women with exposed knees or uncovered shoulders were all stopped by the officers, who asked them if they knew "how things worked here". Bewildered locals, accustomed to treating the Vatican much like any other part of Rome, initially assumed a new bureaucratic procedure was in force. Prescriptions, letters and shopping permits were hastily produced as evidence of plans to use the Vatican's pharmacy, post office and shop. Only to be told the real reason was their clothing.

"This is the Vatican City and for reasons of respect, you are not allowed in with uncovered shoulders or wearing shorts," was the standard explanation. Some retreated without protest, while a number of the women made impromptu purchases from one of the many stands selling shawls and scarves near the Vatican gates. A cheap, quick solution to cover the bare legs of men in shorts was harder to come by, although some duly trudged off to the nearby shopping district of Cola di Rienzo to buy a pair of trousers.

Modest clothing for visitors to St Peter's has been the rule for decades.While most tourists are aware of this beforehand and dress appropriately, the sheer number of pilgrims visiting the basilica in the Jubilee year of 2000 prompted street vendors to expand their long running trade in cheap shawls to include long, lightweight cloaks as well. These later vanished from stalls once demand dropped but are likely to reappear for some months to come, at least until word of the new rules gets around.