Tucked away in the leafy south-west corner of the Vatican City, lies the small monastery where the Pope who stunned the Catholic Church with his unprecedented decision to quit, will spend the rest of his days in quiet prayer and contemplation.
The nondescript, brown-walled building, had for the past eight years housed a group of nuns from around the world. But last October the sisters moved out and renovation and the construction of a new chapel began at the Mater Ecclesiae site— suggesting that someone in the Vatican may have already had an inkling that an important new tenant was moving in.
This was neither confirmed nor denied by the Holy See’s chief spokesman Father Federico Lombardi. He did say, however, that if the renovation went to plan, then Benedict would move in last next month with the title “Bishop of Rome”, after a temporary stay at the papal summerhouse at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome.
At a Vatican press conference after Father Lombardi had re-iterated that Benedict will spend his final years, praying, studying and writing, a slightly bewildered French TV journalist, asked: “But what will he actually DO?”
“He will have no administrative or official duties,” repeated Father Lombardi. The fact that Benedict will live like a monk, albeit one with better-than-average catering and household services, will reduce the possibility of awkwardness arising from having a past Pope and the present Pope living the same tiny city state. “The [current] Holy’s Father’s extreme discretion will ensure there is no clash,” the spokesman added.
His new, simpler lifestyle, will inevitably draw comparison with the last Pontiff to quit, Celestine V, the “hermit Pope”. But Benedict will not be living in a cave. And he will not be living like a hermit.
The 450-square metre monastery, with its own grounds and 27 dedicated gardeners will provide the pope with a 500-square-metre organic vegetable garden on which he will grow oranges, lemons, pumpkin, tomatoes, courgettes and aubergines.
One of the former residents, Mother Sofia Cichetti, explained that surrounding the Leonine Wall provided “a microclimate that would grow the the pontiff some excellent produce” — or will it, providing Benedict’s beloved cats, which are also moving in, aren’t allowed to spoil things.
But Benedict will have plenty of help — much of his current retinue will move in with him, including his dedicated secretary, the handsome blond German monsignor, Georg Ganswein.
The grounds of the Mater Ecclesiae are not unfamiliar to Benedict. He has often visited during his troubled Pontificate to escape the crowds of St Peter’s Square and quite probably to get away from the labyrinthine politics of the Holy See.
Significantly, the new emeritus Bishop of Rome will also have his own library, thus enabling this most bookish of Popes to pursue his favourite pursuit – reading and writing.
Father Lombardi announced that there was not now time for the Pope’s latest encyclical to see the light of day. Benedict has indicated, however, that he has other writing projects lined up. They probably won’t make ideal beach reading. But ensconced in his little library, in the far corner of the Vatican, Bishop Benedict, the egg-head German ex-Pope, won’t really care.