Vatican Europa Stamps

by Michael B. Lamothe [1]


One of the more interesting sub-topics in Vatican stamp collecting is Europa stamps, cancels, and covers. The themes chosen each year are varied and usually secular in nature; sometimes they seem designed to tax the Vatican to come up with a suitable vignette!

The Europa stamp program has a long history that is part of the move toward a united Europe. Just after World War II, Western European nations created the Council of Europe in 1949 and the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951. By 1956 there were also efforts to create a common European post and telecommunications agency. To publicize the project, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg issued the first Europa stamps on September 15 of that year. They were a common design consisting of a tower made up of the word "Europa" [2]. Three years later, the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) was founded, and in 1960 the nineteen charter members released the first official Europa stamp. It again used a common design, this time the word "Europa" with the wheel of an ancient Roman mail coach forming the "O"[3].


Vatican City joined CEPT in 1963 but did not release its first Europa stamp until April 28, 1969. The set of three values-₤50, ₤90, and ₤130-used the common design by Gasbarra and Belli of a building supported by the words "EUROPA" and "CEPT". Most CEPT member nations issued the stamps, but an increasing number of agencies -including Vatican Post- objected to common designs and the political nature of the stamps. The Europa program was finally "depoliticized" and taken over by PostEurop in 1993 [4]


PostEurop is a trade association of postal services that is also a restricted union of the Universal Postal Union (UPU). The Vatican is not a member of PostEurop but is part of its philatelic working group and issues official Europa stamps that generally conform to PostEurop's guidelines. Europa stamps may be issued only once a year, preferably before or on Europe Day, May 9. The postal administration issuing the stamps is expected to confine itself to one stamp with a "maximum of two in exceptional cases." Europa issues should be a stamp and nothing more: no special products, blocks, se-tenant values or souvenir sheets [5].


PostEurop has also moved away from stamps of common design. Instead it has opted (with the single exception of the year 2000) for common themes of a non-political nature that illustrate some aspect of European culture and allow each nation to choose its own vignettes. With these reforms in place, the Vatican began  issuing Europa stamps annually in 1993. The common theme was "Contemporary Painting," and the Vatican pointedly chose two modern but religious works: Crucifixion by Felice Casorati (1886-1963) and Rouen Cathedral by Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955).


The Vatican referred to an infamous moment in its history for the 1994 theme of "Europe and Discoveries." Science and research are depicted symbolically on the low value, while the high value depicts Galileo"s model of the solar system. In 1633, the Inquisition forced Galileo under threat of torture to recant his support for Copernicus" theory that the Earth moves around the Sun. In 1992 the Church acknowledged that Galileo was right, and only two years later his theory was memorialized on the 1994 Europa stamp.


The theme was "Peace and Freedom" in 1995. The Vatican chose two quotes from Pope John Paul II to mark the theme. The low value translates as "take aim to end the language of arms [i.e., war]" while the high value reads "hearts are opened to the exciting work of building peace!"


In 1996 the theme was famous women. The Vatican issued stamps honoring two of its most recently canonized saints, Gianna Beretta Molla and Edith Stein. Molla was an Italian pediatrician, wife, and mother who died in 1962 at the age of 40 under "heroic circumstances." During her pregnancy she developed a fibroma in her uterus and refused an abortion and a hysterectomy, risking serious complications. She died one week after safely delivering her fourth child, a girl. Stein was a great German philosopher and convert to Catholicism from Judaism. She became a Carmelite nun  but was forced to flee Germany when the Nazis came to power. She lived in the Netherlands until 1942, when all Jewish converts were arrested. She was martyred in the gas chambers at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942.


On March 20, 1997, the Vatican issued that year"s Europa stamps on the theme of "History and Legends." Two stamps and two seals showing the pontifical Swiss Guard were issued for the occasion. The stamps (₤750 and ₤850) show a Guard halberdier and swordsman, while the seals show the Guard"s flag and the morion, a plumed helmet used on ceremonial occasions.


Two of the greatest saints of the Church were chosen to illustrate the theme of "Festivals and National Holidays" in 1998. From a 14th century triptych by Giotto in the Vatican Museums, St Peter is depicted on the ₤800 stamp and St Paul is on the ₤900 stamp. The Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul is observed on June 29, the traditional date of their martyrdom. It is also a civic holiday in Vatican City, and the pope celebrates a special Mass on that day during which bishops appointed during the previous year receive their pallium.


The Vatican gardens and the papal summer retreat at Castel Gandolfo were chosen for the "Parks and Natural Resources" theme in 1999. An ₤800 stamp depicts the John Paul II rose, a gift to the Holy Father from the Canadian people on his pastoral visit in 1984, while the ₤900 stamp features water lilies from the Vatican gardens. A seal with a mosaic from the Vatican gardens ties the two stamps together.



The year 2000 featured a common design among the Europa issuing nations-the only such design since 1993. Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration of May 9, 1950, which led eventually to the creation of the European Union, the design depicts stars and children superimposed on a large letter "E." Robert Schuman was the French foreign minister who outlined a plan for economic cooperation among Western European nations; the Vatican has since opened the cause for his beatification.


In 2001, the Vatican issued two stamps devoted to the theme of "Water." The stamps depict the artwork of Irio Ottavio Fantini, a prolific designer of Vatican stamps. The low value shows the hands of the Creator sending water to Earth, while the high value shows the hands of Man receiving water. 


The 2002 theme was a real challenge for Vatican City-"Circuses." Nonetheless, the Vatican came through with flying colors by reproducing Aldo Carpi"s 1963 painting, Christ and the Circus. The set consisted of two values: one showed the entire painting, the other a detail of Christ with a clown. The Vatican said the issue "portrays the tragedy and inevitability of human life and the comfort offered by the grace of faith." The stamps were issued June 12, 2002.


In 2003 the Vatican illustrated the common theme of "Posters" with a €0.41 stamp of the official poster for the 1975 Holy Year and a €0.62 value showing a poster for an exhibition of Slav codices and rare books. 


"Holidays" was the theme in 2004 and the Vatican chose two scenes from an estate as the nobleman"s party set out on a holiday excursion. The Vatican said that in modern times the growing speed of life and work lead to alienation and a greater need for freedom and relaxation. "Free time appears increasingly as a time for self-development and as a space for creativity," according to the Vatican.


Vatican stamp designers had the supreme test of their creativity in 2005, when PostEurop announced that its member nations had chosen "Gastronomy" as the common theme. Having no distinctive cuisine of its own, the Vatican issued €0.60 and €0.80 stamps showing fishes painted on ceramic by Pablo Picasso. Picasso worked with ceramics around 1946 when he asked Georges and Suzanne Ramie, who ran the Madoura pottery works, if he might study with them. Eventually he created more than 3,500 clay sculptures featuring everything from fishes to bullfights, birds and other Mediterranean- inspired subjects.


The theme of "Integration" in 2006 gave the Vatican the opportunity to develop "notions of freedom, respect and the importance (of) education." The Vatican again issued two stamps. The €0.62 example showed a church, a synagogue and a mosque to emphasize the importance of religious freedom around the world. The €0.80 stamp illustrated a classroom with children of many races. In the foreground white and black hands clasp each other. The hope is that the children will grow to become adult citizens of the world and recognize the diversity around them.


For the 2007 theme, which was "A Century of Scouting," the Vatican issued two stamps at €0.60 and €0.65. In addition to the crossed keys, they carry the Europa label. In its announcement of the stamps, the Vatican says it wanted to illustrate that scouting contributes to the "integral formation of young people." The lower value stamp illustrates the themes of exploration, knowledge and growth. The higher value illustrates the spiritual side by "depicting observation of the wonders of creation". Approximately 60 stamp-issuing entities are releasing stamps illustrating scouting as part of the Europa stamp program.


The coming themes for Europa stamps are letter writing in 2008, astronomy in 2009 and children"s books in 2010. It will be interesting to see the designs the Vatican chooses to mark these themes. All three offer rich opportunities.



[1] This is an expanded version of the article "Vatican Europa Issues" by the same author, which appeared in the July 2007 issue of Vatican Notes.


[2] Bayle, Emile and William C. Norby. The CEPT: Its History and Philatelic Recognition. Monograph Series, No. 2, Second ed., March 9, 1988, Bulletin of the Europa Study Unit.


[3] Austria issued a related stamp with the word "Europa" but not the common design. See John Holman, "New Collector, Stamps-Europa Issues," Gibbons Stamp Monthly, April 22, 1992, #11, p. 120.


[4] This transition from CEPT to PostEurop is described in Alban Hammerschmidt, 'CEPT' Main or Accessory Part of the Europa Theme? Barbara Fraize, trans. Europa News, Jan-Feb 1994, p.299-312.


[5]  Personal E-mail to the author from Nathalie Vandenameele, PostEurop Headquarters, 4 May 2007. Regulations can be found at http://membres.lycos.fr/europa_cept/rules_a.htm. The Vatican's relationship with the rest of Europe is complicated. While a member of CEPT, it is not a member of the European Union, but maintains diplomatic relations with the EU and uses the euro as its currency pursuant to a 1998 agreement. For a concise description of the Vatican's relations with the EU, see http://ec.europa.eu/external_relations/we/intro/index.htm.