The head of the Vatican Philatelic and Numismatic Office, Dr. Pier Paolo Francini, has revealed the story behind the stamps that were used at the Vatican during the interregnum period of 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.
The design used for stamps during that time came after one of his co-workers saw a fresco by the Italian artist Carlo Malli that he thought would be appropriate for the occasion.
Francini told the L’Osservatore Roman that “by tradition the stamps during a Vacant See should be printed as soon as possible. The rest has to do with an event that takes place solely in the Vatican.”
“During a Vacant See period, the power to authorize the issuing of new stamps or coins falls, as with any other activity of the State, into the hands of the Cardinal Camerlengo (the head of the papal household) for a brief period, during which it is nevertheless necessary to reaffirm the continuity of the life of the State, without interruption, through the issuance of new stamps and printing of new coins,” he said.
Francini went on to note that “the announcement of the passing of John Paul II, filled me and my collaborators not only with sorrow but also with a certain anxiety because we would need to make these stamps, three in total, very quickly. But 26 years had passed since the last Vacant See. I vaguely remembered it, my collaborators were just kids, and many had never lived through one at all. So there was a generational gap we had to overcome. We had clear difficulties in beginning to design these stamps.”
“Finally some frescos from the Apostolic Room which one of our collaborators just happened to see one day came to our rescue,” Francini continued. Three stamps based on the frescos were issued, he said, representing the Holy Trinity.
Once the new Pope is elected, the stamps for the Vacant See “should be immediately pulled out of circulation, they are no longer valid. They can later be collected but they can no longer be used as postage,” he explained.
The three series of 700,000 stamps issued during that time carried the emblem used by the Vatican during a Vacant See period, which is composed of two keys underneath a canopy.
Francini also revealed that perhaps in September three commemorative stamps and a special coin for the Pauline Year will be issued. He also said that special stamps will be issued in 2009 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Vatican City State.