Rebecca Helm-Ropelato
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Sunday, May 27, 2007
Rooms With A View
Castel Gandolfo on the banks above Albano Lake Castel Gandolfo on the banks above Albano Lake. The dome in the center is atop the 17th century church of San Tommaso da Villanova, reportedly designed by Bernini. The twin observatory domes of the Pontifical Palace are center right.
For the past three weeks, we have been living in temporary quarters in a nearby town. The reason for the dislocation was some much needed renovation work on our apartment. We moved back home yesterday.
The vacation rental where we stayed is just outside the village of Rocca di Papa. This is the place sometimes mistakenly reported to be the location of the Pope’s summer palace. The error may arise from the town’s name which, translated, is Rock of the Pope. The Pope’s vacation pad, however, is in the neighboring village of Castel Gandolfo, about 1200 feet down the mountain from Rocca di Papa which is perched close to the summit.
Mistaken location or not, my awareness of all things Vatican was higher during this sojourn in the town where the Pope doesn’t go for relaxation, but which overlooks the town where he does. Every day when I looked out the windows I had a view of the papal palace. Located on the wooded banks above Albano Lake, it is easily identifiable by its twin observatory domes. The domes house powerful telescopes, and are the headquarters of the Vatican Observatory.
The papal palace The papal palace, center rear, overlooks the central piazza of the tiny village of Castel Gandolfo
The Castel Gandolfo property has belonged to the Roman Catholic Church since early 700 AD, according to the city’s official website.
The existing palace was built in 1626. With its completion, the custom of papal residence there began. In 1870, with the fall of the Papal State and the unification of Italy, the Vatican temporarily lost this favorite vacation spot. But in 1929, an agreement was signed with the Italian government, and the palace and its grounds were returned to the church.
Tourism tip
If you’re driving by Castel Gandolfo (you can also get there by half-hour train trip from Rome), one way to know if the Pope is in residence is by the highly visible presence of the Italian military police, the Carabinieri. Their patrol cars and conspicuously heavily-armed police officers are stationed at the intersections of the main streets leading into the piazza in front of the palace. During these papal visits, Swiss guards are also stationed at the main entrance door of the residence.
One of the twin observatory domes of the papal palace in Castel Gandolfo One of the twin observatory domes of the papal palace in Castel Gandolfo
Popish vocabulary trivia
In Italian, the word pope translates as il Papa. The word is pronounced PAH PAH with equal stress on each syllable, in contrast to the same word used for someone’s father, which is pronounced pa PAH. It’s only recently that I have finally learned to distinguish between the two versions, and have stopped referring to my own father-in-law as the Pope – a relief to all concerned, as you can imagine.
Secularization of Europe
This drift away from the church is reportedly also much in progress in heavily Roman Catholic Italy. Still, the Pope receives major media attention and is one of the most prominent public figures in the country. Excerpts from the Pope’s regular sermons at St. Peter’s are routinely shown on television. And when an Italian prime minister is elected, he (to date it has only been a he) always includes the Pope on his list of early visits to important heads of state. Though traditional, this practice is voluntary rather than officially mandated, I understand.
Relationship between church and state
As in the U.S., the church-state issue is a subject of discussion here. How much and how desirable? For an inside look at some aspects of the relationship between Italians and the Catholic Church, I recommend the 2002 Italian film Ora di religione (Il sorriso di mia madre) – in English, The Religion Hour (My Mother’s Smile). Written and directed by Marco Bellocchio, the film tells the story of a famous contemporary painter who receives a visit from a Vatican representative informing him that the artist's mother is being considered for sainthood.
by Rebecca Helm-Ropelato
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