Its museums are crammed with priceless works of art and its wealth pours in from the Catholic faithful, but even the Vatican is feeling the pinch of austerity.
The Holy See is taking the unprecedented step of issuing a limited edition of special papal stamps to try to raise money for the €14m restoration of the magnificent colonnades of St Peter's Square.
The initiative is designed to plug a spending gap, as the corporate sponsors of the restoration work, which started three years ago, trim their budgets in response to the economic crisis.
It is hoped that the sale of the stamps will raise up to €3m to fund the cleaning and restoring of the 17th Century colonnades, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the leading sculptor of his age and a noted architect.
The double colonnades, described by Bernini as "the motherly arms of the Church", consist of 284 columns, 140 statues of saints, 1,200 yards of balustrade and six papal coats of arms. The keyhole shape of the space underlined the idea of St Peter as the gatekeeper to heaven.
The Vatican is to issue two stamps – one with the coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI and the other the seal of Pope Alexander VII, the pontiff who commissioned Bernini to undertake the work in 1656.
The stamps, each worth €10, will be affixed to a certificate that will cost €20.
It can be personalised with a name or embossed with the Latin words Officium Philatelicum et Nomismaticum – the Vatican's Philatelic and Numismatic Office, which sells commemorative coins and stamps.
If the Holy See succeeds in selling the entire print run of 144,000 certificates, it will raise close to the €3m.
Mauro Olivieri, the head of the philatelic office, said the work done up until now, mostly on the right-hand colonnade, had been thanks to commercial sponsors.
"With the continuation of the economic crisis that is affecting industry and both public and private companies, it's harder to find sponsorship to pay for the costs of the project," said Mr Olivieri.
"The initiative came from the Vatican administration, which asked all the departments to come up with suggestions and proposals to find the necessary funds. This was our contribution."
It had been hoped the restoration work could be completed by next year, but Vatican officials now say it will last until 2015. "The initiative is certainly unprecedented, at least for the Vatican City," said the Vatican's official newspaper, 'L'Osservatore Romano'. "But in times of crisis, needs must." (© Daily Telegraph, London)