CASTELGANDOLFO: FOR ST JOHN PAUL IT WAS “VATICAN TWO”

I leave tomorrow to spend a few days in Chicago, then some time in Hawaii with the multitude of friends I have there – my Hawaiian ohana or family – and then on to southern California to visit family, especially nieces and nephews whom I’ve not seen in a while!

I’m quite excited, as is anyone leaving on vacation, just knowing I will have some time to relax, no deadlines to meet, few alarm clocks, no set daily schedule, etc. I admit it usually takes me a few days to remember that I don’t have a deadline for a TV spot, for the three radio programs I have each week, or for posting a daily blog and adding news and photos to Facebook and Youtube.

In my absence I leave you with a special column and photos of Castelgandolfo, photos I took on a perfect July day a number of years ago when I had a lovely visit to the papal palace and gardens. I have posted this before but for some of you it may be the first time.

However, don’t forget to check in with me on FACEBOOK (https://www.facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420) and YOUTUBE (https://www.youtube.com/user/joansrome) as I will be posting photos and videos, and perhaps even some news. So stay tuned and come with me to Hawaii!

And stay tuned to VATICAN INSIDER! I’ve prepared some special shows. Two weekends are dedicated to interviews with priests who knew Mother Teresa – Saint Teresa of Calcutta – very well, and they tell riveting stories Tune in to hear Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC, Ph.D. the postulator of the Cause of Canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Fr. Bill Petrie, who spent 25 years with Mother and is now a pastor on the island of Molokai.  She was canonized a year ago on September 4 so these are timely.

I also prepared two Specials on the Vatican Observatory and Castelgandolfo (the audio version of what you can read below). These can be used as podcasts for when you come to Rome and visit Castelgandolfo in person! I hope your weekends will be fruitful!|

CASTELGANDOLFO: FOR ST JOHN PAUL IT WAS “VATICAN TWO”

For your special enjoyment I leave you today with a “Joan’s Rome” travelblogue©. We will visit the Apostolic Palace at Castelgandolfo where Popes John Paul and Benedict vacationed for years but which now is fairly deserted as Pope Francis prefers staying at the Santa Marta residence in the Vatican,

Castelgandolfo is a lovely town in a beautiful part of Italy, and I have had the incredible good fortune to have visited the papal palace on a number of occasions.

The first extended visit was a number of years ago when I was welcomed by the then director of papal villas, Saverio Petrillo, whose book on the papal palace I used to write this story, along with much information he gave me as we spent an afternoon strolling the grounds, the gardens and the pontifical farm!

On several other occasions I spent an entire day in the palace when it hosted the offices, library and classrooms of the papal observatory and offered summer courses in astronomy. Those offices have been transferred to a new location on the papal property but the telescopes are still in the palace – as you will see in one photo.

I hope you enjoy this! Have a great summer, stay well and safe travels.

Above all, may God sit on your shoulder!

CASTELGANDOLFO: HISTORY, BEAUTY, AND PEACE MAKE IT A HOME FOR POPES

Roman Pontiffs have spent summers here for centuries, enjoying stupendous panoramas and a climate that is far cooler than Rome’s, which can be quite torrid in July and August. Pope John Paul affectionately called it “Vatican Number Two.”

I am talking, of course, about the summer papal residence at Castelgandolfo that has a long and colorful history and possesses beauty to rival that of the apostolic palace and gardens in Rome.

Pope Benedict, shortly after his arrival one summer at the Pontifical Villa in Castelgandolfo, said; “Thank you, and good evening to you all, dear friends. I have arrived here to begin my holidays. Here I have everything: the mountain, the lake, … a beautiful church with a recently restored facade and good people. I am so happy to be here. Let us hope the Lord grants us a peaceful holiday. My heartfelt blessing to you all! May Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, bless you. Good evening and thank you.”

Castelgandolfo is one of a number of small towns located on beautiful sprawling hills that surround and overlook Lake Albano, about a half hour drive southeast of Rome. The lake, which fills an old volcanic crater, is 961 feet above sea level. Fed by underground sources and drained by an artificial outlet, said to have been built around 398 B.C., it is about two square miles (5 sq km) in size and has a maximum depth of 558 feet.

Located on what was once known as Alba Longa, a city in ancient Latium, reputedly the birthplace of Romulus and Remus, Castelgandolfo and the cluster of nearby towns are known as the Alban Hill towns. Romans also call these picturesque towns the “Castelli Romani” because of the fortified castles originally built on those hills by noble families, around which small towns grew and flourished. Each “castello” bore the name of the lord of the manor.

Castelgandolfo took its name from the Gandulfi family. Originally from Genoa, they built a small square fortress with crenelated walls, an inner courtyard, several towers and an adjacent garden on the hill where the town that bears their name stands today. The Savelli family later bought the property and owned it until 1596 when, because of a debt they could not pay to Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605), the land became patrimony of the Holy See, forming the nucleus of the papal residence that exists today.

In ensuing centuries, the property underwent many vicissitudes, including the purchase of additional lands, villas and gardens, and renovations and additions to the original palace. Some of the Roman Pontiffs who left their mark on the papal property include Urban VIII (1623-1644), Alexander VII (1655-1667) Clement XI (1700-1721, who bestowed the title “Pontifical Villa” on the property), Benedict XIV (1740), Clement XIII (1758-1769) and Clement XIV (1769-1774).

In 1623 Cardinal Maffeo Barberini was elected Pope, choosing the name Urban VIII (1623-1644). Even before his election he had spent vacations in Castelgandolfo and had even built a small home near the walls of the original castle/fortress. Once he became Pope he decided to make this spot his summer residence, readapting and enlargening the old fortress.

One of those who assisted him in this work was the illustrious Carlo Maderno who, in 1603, after completing the facade of Santa Susanna’s Church in Rome, was named as principal architect of the new St. Peter’s Basilica. Maderno designed both a large wing that overlooked Lake Albano, as well as the left part of the facade as seen today from Castelgandolfo’s main square. A modest garden was also planted at this time.

Pope Urban VIII moved into the Castelgandolfo residence on May 10, 1626, just six months before the completion of St. Peter’s Basilica, following 120 years of work. In 1627, the Pope’s nephew, Taddeo Barberini, acquired land and vineyards near the papal residence. Four years later he acquired yet more land and buildings and the entire complex became known as Villa Barberini. Today this is all an integral part of the pontifical property in Castelgandolfo.

Pope Alexander VII (1655-1667) completed the work begun by Urban VIII, including the long gallery which bears his name, with the assistance of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, noted painter, architect and sculptor. Bernini also designed part of the gardens of the papal residence and they can still be seen today.

Bernini is best remembered for having designed the splendid colonnade of 284 pillars which embraces St. Peter’s Square, one of the fountains in the square, the basilica’s Altar of the Cathedra, the tabernacle in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and the baldachin over the central papal altar. Alexander VII also asked Bernini to design the town’s parish church, which was named after St. Thomas Villanova.

The 19th century saw the unification of Italy, which greatly affected papal holdings, principally the vast Papal States. The Papal States, in fact, under Pope Pius IX were incorporated into the new Italy when the peninsula was unified in 1870. By the by, Pius IX’s 32-year pontificate from 1846 to 1878 was the second longest in history, following that of St. Peter). From the loss of the Papal States to the Lateran Pact between Italy and the Holy See on February 11, 1929, under Pius XI, no Pope ever left Vatican City for a holiday in Castelgandolfo.

With the Lateran Treaty, Villa Barberini now belonged to the Holy See and officially became part of the papal residence complex in Castelgandolfo. Pius XI helped to restore the buildings and land which had been unused for so many years. He even bought several orchards in order to set up a small farm, not only to produce goods for consumption in the Vatican but to underscore the importance of agriculture.

This last acquisition brought the total acreage of the papal property in Castelgandolfo to 136 acres (55 hectares). Vatican City State is 109 acres (44 hectares). In Castelgandolfo, more of the total acreage is dedicated to the farm (62 acres, or 25 hectares) and to gardens than it is to buildings.

The real work of restoration at Castelgandolfo under Pope Pius XI began in 1931. In 1933 the Vatican Observatory, run by the Jesuits, was moved from Vatican City in Rome to Castelgandolfo, because the city lights were too bright for astronomers. Still today, the director of the observatory has an apartment in the palace at Castelgandolfo.

Pius XI also built a new chapel in which he placed a replica of Poland’s Black Madonna of Czestochowa. Between 1918 and 1921, he had been, respectively, apostolic visitator and then nuncio in Poland, and had a predilection for the Black Madonna. This chapel has remained unchanged since his day. The Pope’s first summer visit was in 1934.

His successor, Pope Pius XII, especially loved Castelgandolfo and spent a great deal of time at this residence, except for the years of World War II. However, during some of the worst moments of the war, Pius allowed the inhabitants of Castelgandolfo and nearby towns to take refuge on the papal property, given that it enjoyed the status of extraterritoriality. After the landing at Anzio in 1944, the citizens of Castelgandolfo were allowed to stay at the papal palace whereas those from other towns were allowed sanctuary in the Villa Barberini property. Pius XII’s first postwar visit to the lakeside villa was in 1946. He returned often after that and died there on October 9, 1958.      

Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) also enjoyed sojourns at Castelgandolfo. He started two traditions here as pontiff: praying the Angelus with the faithful on Sundays in the inner courtyard, and celebrating Mass in the parish church of St. Thomas Villanova on the August 15 feast of the Assumption.

Paul VI inaugurated papal trips by helicopter from Castelgandolfo. Continuous use of a helicopter for short papal trips began during the Holy Year of 1975 when Paul VI would return to Rome for the weekly general audiences. He died here on August 6, 1978.

John Paul II, then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland, spent several hours here on October 8, 1978. He returned 17 days later as Pope, having been elected on October 16. He spent most of every summer here, and often came for several days after an especially long and arduous foreign trip.

Benedict XVI, as we saw, also enjoyed the beauty, peace and subdued rhythm of summer life at Castelgandolfo, and came here every summer for a couple of months after his election to the papacy in April 2005. He lived here for two months after he resigned and left the Vatican on February 28, 2013.

I earlier mentioned one part of the pontifical property that is called Villa Barberini. Here we find many buildings, including the home of the director of pontifical villas and apartments used by the cardinal secretary of state and by the prefect of the papal household in the summer. The formal gardens, a 62-acre farm, and the remains of Emperor Domitian’s (81-96) palatial 14 square kilometer home are all also part of Villa Barberini.

Dr. Petrillo, former director of the pontifical villas at Castelgandolfo, began to serve the Holy See in June 1958, and was named Director of the pontifical villas in 1986. He authored a book entitled “The Popes at Castelgandolfo,” from which I took much of the information you are reading here. Saverio was an excellent, knowledgeable and discreet guide to the papal property and residences the day we first met.

Dr. Petrillo began his work in Castelgandolfo at the age of 18 when he was asked to take the place of a Vatican employee who was ill. In the ensuing years he familiarized himself not only with the physical property – the farm, gardens and buildings – but with the multi-century history of the villas as well. His office, as well as other administrative offices, was located in one of the buildings of the Villa Barberini part of the pontifical property, and offered splendid views of the Castelli Romani and, in the distance, Rome and the Mediterranean.

Separate from Villa Barberini, but only a short distance away, are the Apostolic Palace and other gardens. The palace – the building overlooking the lake – is where the Pope resides and where the faithful can join him in the courtyard on Sundays for the noon angelus. At Castelgandolfo, Dr. Petrillo told me on my first visit, the Holy Father has the same basic rooms that he has in Rome – a study, private chapel, dining room and library. The rooms, as is the entire palace complex, are on a smaller, more intimate and homey scale. “Everything here,” he said, “is very intimate, warm and family-like. Even the pace of life is slower, more suited to man.”

On our tour of the farm, Saverio Petrillo pointed out that it produces eggs, milk (there are 25 cows) and yogurt on a daily basis: these are brought early in the morning to the apostolic palaces in both Castelgandolfo and Rome and are sold as well in the Vatican City supermarket under the name “Ville Pontificie di Castelgandolfo” – Pontifical Villas of Castelgandolfo. Olive oil is also produced, but in very small quantities. Once Vatican City even had its own bakery!

He told me some 60 people work year round on the papal properties in Castelgandolfo, including gardeners, tree trimmers, those who work at the farm, electricians, other maintenance people, etc. Only 20 people permanently reside in buildings on the property.

The heliport, which is not far from the farm, was first used by Paul VI in 1963 when he visited the cathedral at Orvieto. Continuous use of a helicopter for short papal trips began during the Holy Year of 1975 when Paul VI would return to Rome for the weekly general audiences.

Pope John Paul II, a very athletic pontiff, asked that a swimming pool be installed at Castelgandolfo to be used for health reasons. Although I did not see the 60-foot long pool on my tour of the papal villa and gardens, Dr. Petrillo told the story that when the Pope heard that some people objected to the cost of a pool, he humorously said: “A conclave would cost a lot more.” This was John Paul’s explanation about how effective physical exercise was in helping him bear the strains of a tiring pontificate.

The beautifully maintained and manicured formal gardens of Villa Barberini have been used by Popes through the centuries for long walks and moments of prayer. The flowers, bushes and trees – of many varieties, and trimmed to perfection in geometrical shapes – provide beauty, seclusion and tranquility. Covering many acres, the stunning formal gardens also provide lovely vistas of the Roman countryside. There are statues, fountains, and a labyrinth of walkways and roads, one of which dates to Roman times and is paved exactly like the Old Appian Way.

 One olive tree in the gardens has a special story: Just an olive branch at the time, it was given by King Hussein of Jordan to Pope Paul VI during his trip to Jerusalem in 1964. The late king’s son and heir, now King Abdullah, was able to visit the gardens and saw the fully-grown tree.

Ruins of Emperor Domitian’s villa can be found everywhere and occasionally one will see a niche with a statue from the villa.

The Emperor Domitian, who ruled from 81 to 96, had built a 14-square kilometer villa on this site. Constructed on three levels, the top was for the servants, the middle was for the imperial family and their guests and the bottom was the crypto-portico, which is in near perfect condition nearly two thousand years later.

The crypto-portico, reached now by a staircase built into the gardens, was constructed to provide the emperor and his guests with a cool place to walk, talk, and sit to escape from the summer heat of Rome. Enormous in size, it resembles a tunnel – with one end open and the other closed. The closed end has a raised stage-like level, accessible by a staircase: today there is a large cross here. The ceiling is curved and, on the western wall, there are windows at the top level. These were once covered with alabaster to let in the late afternoon, setting sunlight – but not the heat.

Also at Villa Barberini is the Antiquarium, a museum that houses a small but prized collection of artifacts from Domitian’s villa which were discovered over the past century. Only restricted numbers of scholars are allowed to visit the Antiquarium which includes busts, statues, columns, portals, and tables made of marble and various stones, to mention but a few objects.

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