Arago: Pontificate of John Paul II (1978-2005)

Pontificate of John Paul II (1978-2005)

One of the shortest papacies in history-that of John Paul I-was followed by one of the longest. Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, former archbishop of Krakow, Poland, was elected by his brother cardinals on the eighth ballot of the conclave. Taking his predecessor's name, John Paul II was the youngest pope in more than a century and the first non-Italian since 1523. He served as Bishop of Rome for more than twenty-six years, a tenure surpassed only by Pius IX (thirty-one years) and Saint Peter himself (thirty-four years).

The philatelic program during John Paul II's reign was equally as eventful. Where previously one or two artists at a time tended to dominate Vatican stamp design, Poste Vaticane in the 'eighties and 'nineties employed a range of designers with different styles. Janos Hajnal fled to Italy from his native Hungary in 1948 to escape the Rakosi's Stalinist regime. A book illustrator and mosaic artist, he blended those two genres in his Vatican stamp designs. Luca Vangelli and Antonio Ciaburro, staff artists at the Italian State Printing Works (IPS), designed many of the issues printed by that firm. Irio Ottavio Fantini, a graphic designer for the Vatican's shortwave station, produced successful radio-themed stamps for the Vatican in 1981 and 1985. He went on to design dozens more, most of them portraits executed in watercolor.

Besides enlarging its stable of artists, Poste Vaticane expanded its circle of printing firms. Since 1929 the IPS had enjoyed a near-monopoly on the production of Vatican stamps; in the 1990s, contracts were awarded to the Austrian State Printing Works; Courvoisier of Switzerland; Cartor of France; and Enschede of the Netherlands, among others. Surface printing began to supplant line engraving (this shift occurred much later than in most other stamp-issuing countries), but a significant number of stamps continue to be printed by the traditional method.

In 2002, Vatican City abandoned the lira as its unit of currency in favor of the euro. (Although the Vatican does not belong to the European Union, it has adopted the euro through a special agreement negotiated with the EU.) In preparation for the transition, Vatican stamps issued during 2001 had their face value expressed in both euros and lire. All Vatican stamps issued since March 12, 2002, have been denominated solely in euros.