On Feb. 28, he’ll be the Holy Father of the Roman Catholic Church, his prayers and benedictions craved and coveted by more than a billion faithful around the world. But come March 1, Pope Benedict XVI will settle back into a quiet, austere life as Joseph Ratzinger. After announcing his retirement on Feb. 11, the 85-year-old pontiff has promised to devote the rest of his life to prayer. But where? Would he return to his native Germany or remain in the tiny city-state which he’s called home for at least the last eight years?
After he steps down at the end of the month — becoming, incidentally, the first pope to do so in nearly 600 years — he’ll head to Castel Gandolfo, a small town in the hills southeast of Rome that houses a majestic papal residence. The Pontifical Palace has been used as a summer home for every pope since Urban VIII in the 1600s.
But the former pope won’t remain there for very long – just until renovations are finished on his permanent pad in Vatican City. Upon his return, Ratzinger will be given residence in a disused convent that stands within the Vatican walls, a tony house of about 4,300 square feet that stands on a hill just a few hundred yards behind St. Peter’s Basilica.
The convent of Mater Ecclesiae was built in 1994 around what was once the residence of the Vatican gardener. Since then, different orders of cloistered nuns have spent between three- and five-year terms there, the Catholic News Service reports. After the final group of nuns moved out in November, renovations began. The nuns that once inhabited the place lived in 12 apartment-like “cells” on the highest floors of the four-story building. All told, it’s a rather embellishment-free building, originally constructed “for contemplative life within the walls of Vatican City,” according to the Vatican’s website.
But it’s being converted now into the Pope’s permanent home, “complete with contemporary chapel, garden and a roof terrace,” Reuters reports. It’s unclear if anyone else will live there with the aging pope, but it wouldn’t be a far-fetched idea: for the past eight years, the pontiff has lived with a full staff of butlers, chefs and secretaries. Regardless, he can enjoy retirement and the rest of his life to the fullest. After all, it was a place of his own choosing and His Holiness “thought it was appropriate for his needs,” Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said at a news conference. And by Easter — the church leadership hopes — he’ll be welcoming a new neighbor just next door.