Papal summer residence opens to the public for the first time

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) — Pope Francis is throwing
open the doors to the papal apartment — including the bedroom where popes have
slept — in the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo.

The palace was for centuries the summer residence of the
Roman pontiffs, but Pope Francis has decided not to use it. Instead in 2014, he
opened the palace gardens to the public and last year opened a portion of the
Apostolic Palace as a portrait gallery.

Pope Francis “wanted this place — so rich in history
and so significant — to be a gift for the people,” Antonio Paolucci,
director of the Vatican Museums, said Oct. 20 at the grand opening of the papal

“Whoever passes through the gate of the Apostolic
Palace of Castel Gandolfo will find pure beauty,” Paolucci said.

Among the rooms open now to the public are the Room of the Throne,
the Consistory Room, the pope’s bedroom and private study.

Unlike his predecessors, Pope Francis spends his summers in
Rome rather than at the peaceful residence 20 miles away in the cooler hills.
However, Sandro Barbagallo, curator of historical collections at the Vatican
Museums, said that the “non-presence of the pope fits perfectly within the
palace’s history.”

“Thirty-three popes have reigned since the Apostolic Palace
was first acquired. Of those 33 popes, only 15 have actually resided here at
Castel Gandolfo,” he noted.

To celebrate the papal apartment’s grand opening to the
public and its historical significance, artists from the Guangzhou Opera House
in Beijing performed a short concert titled, “Beauty unites us.”

Playing both classical and traditional instruments, the
eight female artists filled the palace courtyard with the sounds of China while
famed calligrapher, Cui Zimo, painted an artistic representation in honor of
the Year of Mercy titled “Anima Mundi” (“The Soul of the World”).

Zimo said his artwork, as well as the presence of the musicians
from the Guangzhou Opera House, was “an artistic contribution to the
pope’s Year of Mercy,” and he hoped that it would be “a new start to
the relationship between China and the Vatican.”

The artwork, he said, was inspired by Michelangelo’s
“Creation of Adam,” in which God is depicted reaching his finger
toward Adam, “yet their fingers are barely touching.”

Zimo said he suddenly realized “what those hands
mean” when he had a chance to meet Pope Francis and shake his hand. “It
is love that allows those hands to be together and that small distance (between
them) can disappear,” he said.

“This merciful love not only means the coming together
of two persons but also (the coming together of) different peoples and
different nations,”Zimo said.

Visitors can purchase tickets to the Apostolic Palace and
the papal apartment in Castel Gandolfo through the Vatican Museums’ website

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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