The announcement yesterday that Pope Francis will not be moving to the Apostolic Palace “for now”, but will remain living in the suite at the Domus Sanctae Marthae where he moved immediately to following his election has been presented as quite a break with tradition. And in a way it is, but a cursory glance at the history of the papacy reveals it’s not that big a deal as some would have us think.
The Apostolic Palace is located to the right of the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica and includes the Papal Apartments at the top right corner. Popes have been using the Palace as their official residence since the 17th century, although they didn’t actually live there at the time. Their residence was the Quirinal Palace, which now lies outside the borders of Vatican City and is the home of the President of Italy. The Papal Apartments were used the official residence of the Popes in their capacity as Supreme Pontiff. The Quirinal Palace served the same purpose for their role as temporal ruler of the Papal States.
The Papal States were conquered by the Italian unification armies in the 1870s and Blessed Pope Pius IX became a “prisoner in the Vatican”. The Apostolic Palace was the only part of the Papal States not occupied by the Italians.
So the Apostolic Palace has only served as the fulltime residence of the Popes since 1870. That’s not a long time in the entire history of the Church. But to say that the Popes did not live in some form of (relative) luxury before 1870 is not true. There was the Quirinal Palace, and before that several residences attached to basilicas in Rome and the Lateran Palace, going back to the 4th century. And Pope Francis, in refusing to move to the Apostolic Palace, hardly makes a choice for poverty. The Domus Sanctae Marthae is a very adequate personal residence, although it admittedly has a far smaller surface area than the Papal Apartments.
In his current residence, Pope Francis has the use of a sitting room, a study (pictured), a bedroom and a private bathroom. There are also a shared dining room and four chapels. Comparing that to the Papal Apartments: that features a chapel, an office for the Pope and one for his secretaries, a bedroom, a dining room, a kitchen and rooms for two secretaries and the household staff. Most of these spaces will continue to see use, as Pope Francis will pray the Angelus from one of its windows and receive guests in the building’s library. Undoubtedly, the secretaries’ office will also continue to be used.
Pope Francis’ choice not to relocate to the other side of St. Peter’s Square effectively allows him some more freedom and keeps him in touch with the people working at the Vatican, something he greatly values.