The internet is full of this claim, most of them (it seems) use the same picture:

lightning striking the vatican


There are many other major news agencies reporting the same event, but by reading their articles, they seem very careful to use weasel words, like "it is said", "some assume", etc. This event did not happen thousands of years ago. It happened just recently at a place which is densely inhabited and full of tourists and reporters with cameras. So why are the reports of the event express uncertainty?

Is this verified?

  • 1
    There's plenty of pictures... aren't they enough?
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 15:30
  • E.g. i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2013/02/11/…
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 15:31
  • @Sklivvz : of course they are, but how to verify if they were taken that night, and not like months or years before. Like I said, I don't doubt that it happened, I would just like to see how to prove it better than images and articles in the style of "some assume it might have happened".
    – vsz
    Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 15:32
  • What kind of evidence would convince you? You need to ask an answerable question... :-)
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 15:34
  • 1
    vsz: To explain @nico's point: It is strange, but we consider discussion of the skepticism itself to be off-topic. This site is about applying skepticism. So they question "Is this a photo of..." would be on-topic, but "How would we know if this is a photo of..." is off-topic.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Feb 13, 2013 at 2:13

1 Answer 1


How can the news that lightning struck the St. Peter basilica the night the Pope resigned be verified?

  • By contacting the photographer and asking him to confirm his whereabouts at the time?
  • By looking for independent corroboration.


The agency which employs him† cover the story

'He was a storm coming - says Alessandro Di Meo, the photojournalist ANSA author of the click -. When I saw the first lightning I had the idea and I immediately moved under the colonnade. I was almost forty minutes to fight with the camera and weather to try to make the photos I had thought.'' A race against time but also against misfortune:'' While I was cleaning the lens from raindrops, a first lightning struck the cupola. And I could not help but watch helplessly, as well as very angry.'' The misfortune, however, 'is not enough to discourage Di Meo, who has persevered in an attempt to try to make the photo so' as he had imagined.

'I tried again several times - adds the photographer - until 'a bolt of lightning struck the cupola just as I was taking.'' For lovers of photography, Di Meo also revealed the shooting data of the picture:'' The camera was sitting on a fence, and not on a tripod. The exposure time was eight seconds, 9 aperture and ISO 50 sensitivity '. Of course, the machine was set to manual and I mounted a wide angle lens that allowed me to include the whole church in the frame.''

The photo did not fail to provoke heated discussions, bounced especially on the web and social networks. Many voices in the network have questioned the veracity 'of the photo, suspecting a montage intervention or some photo editing. The denial of Di Meo and 'categorical:'' I understand that the picture may seem incredible. But photos of lightning if they have always been done - replica firmly reporter -. The only difference, in this case, and 'that is the lightning right, in the right place and at the right time. I succeeded in obstinacy, 'and because' no, even with a bit of luck.''

(mis)translation by Google

The IPTC info in the photo's JPEG metadata here is

Author(byline): ALESSANDRO DI MEO
Caption (description): epa03579544 A lighting strikes the basilica of St.Peter's dome during a storm, the same day Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, Vatican City, 11 February 2013. Pope Benedict XVI announced 11 February 2013 plans to step down on February 28, citing the job's pressures and advanced age. 'After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,' he said. The announcement came during a Latin-language ceremony. He said he had long thought about his decision, which he said was for the good of the church. EPA/ALESSANDRO DI MEO
Headline: A lighting strikes the basilica of St.Peter's dome during a storm
Credits: EPA
Source: ANSA
Date created: 20130211
Country: Vatican City State (Holy See)

IPTC info can be forged of course.

Independent reports

The BBC has video which looks like the same lightning strike from a slightly different angle.


According to NOAA

Lightning strikes 40–50 times a second worldwide, for a total of nearly 1.4 billion flashes per year.

So there were probably around 4 million lightning strikes on that day. If every lightning strike represents Zeus passing judgement on someone who was within a few hundred meters earlier the day - we can't be sure the bolt was not aimed at the tourist who dropped a piece of litter in St Peter's square a few hours before.


† The photographer, not the Pope.

  • Nice answer, the exact thing I was looking for (except for the commentary at the end. :P I intentionally wanted to avoid any discussion about its significance or meaning). Most media failed to identify the source, and remained (seemingly intentionally) vague.
    – vsz
    Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 20:18
  • 1
    @vsz significance and context are essential to healthy skepticism, without them we don't really know anything at all. For example there's this recent question: if they did crash by sheer coincidence then that's a pretty surprising event. However if those 2 cars were brought to Ohio together as part of a publicity race-day to encourage car sales in the state then it's far less surprising. Context is everything.
    – Ian
    Commented Feb 14, 2013 at 11:09
  • Interestingly (and subjectively) Google translate seems to do a better job via French...
    – Benjol
    Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 14:36

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