February 19, 2013, Tuesday — In the Vatican Gardens

Pope Benedict’s Future Residence

The Vatican Gardens are not large — the entire state is only 108 acres, and the gardens make up only about half of that area, so, about 50 acres of greenery. But it is enough room to take a good half-hour walk.

It is here, in the building just to the right of the center in the photo above, that Pope Benedict will live after he resigns on February 28.

The map of Vatican City below has three red circles drawn on it.

You can orient yourself by starting on the right, where you can see part of St. Peter’s Square, and looking toward the middle of the photo, where you can see the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. To the left of the dome, that is, behind the basilica, are the Vatican Gardens. The Pope’s future residence is a convent on the upper left side of the photo, circled in red.

The Pope’s current residence is on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace. His rooms are on the far end, and are circled in red on the upper right of the photo. He has lived there since shortly after he was elected Pope on April 19, 2005, that is, for nearly eight years now.

The Pope worked from 1982 to 2005, for 23 years, in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, also known by its old Italian name, the Sant’Uffizio, or Holy Office. The Palace of the Holt Office is circled in red on the lower right of the photo.

Not circled on the photo is the Domus Santa Marta — the building where the cardinals will stay during the papal conclave, which is now expected to start sometime in mid-March, though no official date has yet been set.

The Domus is the building at the very bottom edge of the photo, in the exact center, across a little piazza from the dome of the basilica.

Below, from AFP, is a larger picture of the Pope’s future residence inside the gardens, with the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the background.

This is the building the Pope will be living in starting in May, after spending two months at Castel Gandolfo outside of Rome.

The building is called the Mater Ecclesiae convent — “Mother of the Church.”

So this will be the view the former Pope will see each morning.

The building was once the home of the Vatican’s head gardener and was then used as a retreat for cloistered nuns – the last of whom vacated the property in November.

Adjoining the residence is a small chapel.

The Domus Sanctae Marthae, where the cardinals will sleep and eat during the conclave, was built in the 1990s by Pope John Paul II to provide an alternative to the close, cramped quarters cardinals had formerly used inside the Apostolic Palace itself.

“There was only one lavatory for every 10 cardinals in the Apostolic Palace, and no doors on the showers,” said Benedikt Steinschulte (photo), an official from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, who led a tour of journalists inside the Vatican this morning.

Each morning the cardinals will be escorted from the Domus to the Sistine Chapel, where the voting will take place.

The able-bodied will walk — the walk takes about seven minutes — while older cardinals will be transported by mini-bus.

(A map of Vatican City; the cardinals, staying at the Domus Santa Marta at the bottom of the map in the middle, will walk or take a minbus to the Sistine Chapel, just on the other side of St. Peter’s Basilica, by walking around the back of the basilica)

The road behind the basilica will be closed to all pedestrians and traffic to ensure that the electors remain in total seclusion from the outside world.

The Domus and the Sistine Chapel will be swept for bugs and other listening devices before the Conclave begins.

“They can’t talk to anybody, they can’t use their mobile phones – they are totally closed off,” said Steinschulte, a powerfully-built German who is close to Pope Benedict and has worked in the Vatican for nearly 30 years. “After all, the word conclave comes from ‘cum clave’ – “with a key,” meaning locked in with a key.”

The Domus has 108 suites and 23 single rooms, all with private bathrooms – a great improvement on the accommodation endured by cardinals during past conclaves.

Vatican City has a permanent population of about 500, including cardinals, bishops and the 150 members of the Swiss Guard.

The Vatican also has said that Benedict will send his last Tweet on February 28, his final day in office, and after that his Twitter handle, @pontifex, will fall silent.

It will be up to the new Pope to decide whether he wishes to revive a papal account.

It is not clear whether the Vatican Gardens will be “off limits” to visitors in the years to come. Up until now, it has been possible for visitors to walk in the gardens after requesting a special pass, which was readily granted.

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