The Pope spends the summer at Castel Gandolfo

Source: FSSPX News

Late in the afternoon on July 7, Benedict XVI traveled to his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, for a nearly three-month stay.  The pope, who has chosen not to go to the mountains this year, will stay in this palace situated above the volcanic Lake Albano, twenty-five kilometers from the Vatican.  “Far from the media storms and frantic pace of Rome, Benedict XVI will rest, pray, walk, read, and above all devote himself to writing, his great passion,” explained the French edition of Vatican Radio.  “While we await the publication of Volume Two of his book on Jesus of Nazareth, a new work on the childhood of Jesus and his early preaching is said to be already in preparation.”

The papal villa of Castel Gandolfo thus welcomes Benedict XVI until his return [to work], which is scheduled to include “a delicate voyage to the United Kingdom” in September and “less than a month later, a synod of bishops focused on the difficult situation of Christians in the Middle East.”  For the moment, Benedict XVI does not anticipate any engagements in July, except for the Sunday Angelus.  His general audiences, in the little courtyard of Castel Gandolfo, do not resume until the beginning of August.  “He was so tired that he needed to have a real break,” confided one of his close friends.  In August also his older brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, will join him.  The pope’s secretaries will also take turns going away on vacation, as will the four consecrated laypersons from the Communion and Liberation Movement who are at his service every day.

A Short History

The estate of Castel Gandolfo is built on the remains of one of the most celebrated villas of antiquity : the Albanum Domitianum, which belonged to the Emperor Domitian (81-96).  Then, over the course of the years, the imperial villa became dilapidated and was abandoned by the emperor’s successors.  Not until the Middle Ages and the building of fortified villages around Lake Albano—the Castelli—did the estate recover a certain splendor.  Around 1200 the Gandolfo family built a castle on the property, which then acquired the name of Castel Gandolfo.  In 1596, during the pontificate of Clement VIII (1592-1605), the Apostolic Camera, which was in charge of the papal properties, bought the fortress for the sum of 24,000 écus [French crowns].  In 1604, a papal decree incorporated the township and its lands into the temporal estates of the Holy See.

Urban VIII (1623-1644) commissioned the architect Carlo Maderno (1556-1629) to carry out one phase of work on the villa.  Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) likewise participated in the work in progress.  Urban VIII always preferred to stay at the nearby Villa Barberini, his ancestral palace.  The first pope to stay at Castel Gandolfo was Alexander VII (1655-1667).  He proceeded with the restoration of the fortress, which would remain uninhabited for a long time.  It was not until the pontificate of Benedict XIV (1740-1758) that a pope would again reside at Castel Gandolfo.  He ordered that the work of enlarging and decorating the villa should continue, and in 1749 had the balcony of benediction constructed.  Clement XIV (1769-1774) continued the work and acquired, in 1773, Villa Cybo, which allowed the enlargement of the papal gardens.

During the French occupation at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Napoleonic troops pillaged and sacked the region, obliging Pius VII (1800-1823) to renovate the palace.  Gregory XVI (1831-1846) continued the work begun and became a regular visitor to Castel Gandolfo.  Pius IX (1846-1878) was the last pope to reside there before the twentieth century.

Indeed, the annexation of Rome to the Kingdom of Italy in 1870 marked the end of the Papal States, and Castel Gandolfo was deserted for a long period.  Not until the Lateran Accords between the Holy See and Italy (February 11, 1929) was the palace of Castel Gandolfo recognized as the exclusive property of the Holy See.  It was also during the pontificate of Pius XI (1922-1939) that the papal property was enlarged, with the acquisition of the Villa Barberini.  The three parcels of land combined would henceforth make up the papal residence.  The pope launched major rebuilding projects on the property and decided to build the Vatican Observatory on it in the 1930’s.

The estate of Castel Gandolfo is not only the summer residence of the popes.  Indeed, twenty-five hectares of the property are dedicated to farming, thus supplying the Vatican with milk and produce.  The upkeep of the gardens and the farms, as well as the livestock farm, falls under the Direction of the Papal Villas.  About fifty people, supervised since 1986 by Saverio Petrillo, see to all the services related to the stays of the pope at Castel Gandolfo.

During recent pontificates, Castel Gandolfo has witnessed events connected with the personalities of the successive popes.  Thus, according to Saverio Petrillo, John XXIII (1958-1963) had the custom of leaving the estate incognito ; John Paul II (1978-2005) loved to go and meet with the young people of the village, and Benedict XVI enjoys playing sonatas by Mozart, Bach, or Beethoven on the piano.

Castel Gandolfo has also seen the deaths of several supreme pontiffs.  Thus, at dawn on October 9, 1958, Pius XII (1939-1958) became the first pope in history to die at this residence.  Twenty years later, on Sunday, August 6, 1978, a bout of fever prevented Paul VI (1963-1978) from appearing on the balcony of the palace for the Angelus.  He died that same evening.  (Sources :   Apic/Imedia/ – DICI no. 219 dated July 24, 2010)