Although mainstream linguistic landscape studies focus mainly on street and shop signs, this paper centres on just one internationally-acclaimed monument: St Peter’s basilica – the epicentre of a religion, Roman Catholicism, which developed from a small group of followers of Jesus Christ into a global religion. The basilica itself is steeped in two millennia of history and Christian values, whose importance transcends religion. It is adorned with priceless and breath-taking works of art. Unsurprisingly, it ranks among the top most-visited sites both by believers and non-believers from all over the world. This study’s analysis of 85 signs (monolingual, bilingual and multilingual) captured digitally by the researcher demonstrates that many of the multilingual signs in St Peter’s reflect the importance that the Church attaches to conveying its message, to inform, direct, appeal or warn those visiting the basilica. The wide spectrum of languages used clearly reflects the import of the universality of the symbolic universe of meaning which the Catholic Church seeks to advance through its linguistic landscape. The four research issues which are explored both quantitatively and qualitatively seek to explain the shift from the use of Latin, the mainstay of Catholicism in favour of a set of vernacular languages. This study reveals that the sign writers at St Peter’s are all too aware that though Latin, for centuries the official language of the Roman Catholic Church is forever present and deeply etched in the basilica’s friezes, tribunes and monuments, contemporary society needs to be reached through living languages. The more recent signs show a definite language shift and an appreciation of other languages and other cultures. The towering presence of English as the second most present language in signs, is testimony to its status as a global language and the gateway to international communication with both pilgrims and visitors.
Mar 16, 2022