As mentioned in May’s “Food For Thought,” Palazzo Cardinal Cesi is a sister, but not the twin, of Residenza Paolo VI. Both founded as hotels and still managed by Hans-Albert Courtial, they have a similar number of rooms with every amenity at similar prices (depending on the season) and both offer an American breakfast, snack bar and event services, but have no restaurant. Unlike the Residenza, the Palazzo requires a minimum stay of four nights.
While the entrance to the Residenza Paolo VI is hidden away in a courtyard and the hotel begins on the third floor, Palazzo Cardinal Cesi opens directly onto the street at No. 51 Via della Conciliazione, the wide avenue leading from the Tiber to St. Peter’s Square, built by Mussolini in 1929 to celebrate the Lateran Pacts. To reach the lobby, guests pass first through a peaceful and immaculate courtyard, once a monastic cloister, with a refreshment area. Off to the right is the newly-opened two-floor “Garden Suite” with a living room on the ground floor and bed and bath up a charming spiral staircase. Along the left side of the courtyard is a series of rooms available for private events. (Just a month ago I attended a reception here to celebrate 40 years of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Australia.) Behind the lobby is the former refectory where breakfast is served.
The grandiose Palazzo was built around 1500 on the site of what’s believed to have been Seneca’s house by Cardinal Francesco Armellini (1470-1528), a counselor to Pope Leo X. During the Sack of Rome in 1527, he fled to Castel Sant’Angelo where he died a few months later. (He’s buried in Santa Maria in Trastevere.) In 1565, Cardinal Pierdonato Cesi (1521-1586) and his brother, Angelo Cesi, the bishop of Todi, bought the Palazzo. They had it completely renovated by Martino Longhi the Elder between 1570 and 1577, turning it into an antiques and art museum, and installing a well-endowed library.
In 1895, Father Francis Mary of the Cross Jordan (1848-1918), founder a few years before of the rapidly-growing missionary order, the Society of the Divine Savior, commonly called the Salvatorians, bought the Palazzo, thanks to the generosity of benefactors, particularly from Germany where Father Jordan had been born in the town of Gurtweil in the Grand Duchy of Baden. Father Jordan lived here in the Palazzo for 33 years, from 1882 to 1915, when because of communication problems due to World War I, the Order’s administration was moved to Tafers in neutral Switzerland, where Jordan died. His life is currently under review by the Holy See for possible canonization. On January 14, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to publish the decree of heroicity of his virtues, granting him the title of Venerable. It’s possible to ask permission to visit his tomb in the “Founder’s Chapel” and the small museum of his belongings, as well as the magnificent frescoed library with its red-and-gold coffered ceiling and rows of documents about the Salvatorians. Today the order counts more than 3,000 members in more than 40 countries around the world. Like the Residenza, which belongs to the Augustinians, today’s Palazzo is only a portion of the building, which remains the Generalate of the Salvatorians.
For more information about Father Francesco Jordan and the Salvatorians, click on www.sda.org. The best-known Salvatorian, at least in Rome, is German-born Father Pancrazio Pfeiffer (1872-1945) who lived for 51 years at the Palazzo. He served as Pope Pius XII’s personal liaison to the German military command in Rome during World War II. Because of the many lives, especially of Roman Jews, his intervention helped to save, he was nicknamed “The Angel of Rome.” He died tragically in an automobile accident in May 1945 and thus never took part in the postwar analysis of Pius XII’s conduct during the Holocaust, so many historians have overlooked him.
Guests step back into a bygone age and experience the spirituality of this unique place which is drenched in history. To book at the Palazzo, which received a “Certificate of Excellence” from TripAdvisor in 2013, click on www.palazzocesi.it.