BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 13 May 2005, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Pope Benedict's creature comforts

By David Willey
BBC Rome Correspondent

Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowds in St Peter's Square
The new Pope brought some home comforts with him to the Vatican
Pope Benedict XVI, the 78-year-old former German Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, is making himself at home inside the Vatican.

A few days after his election the new pope moved his furniture, his books and his personal belongings across the road, from his former apartment in a block of flats owned by the Vatican into the official papal residence. It is on the top floor of the centuries-old Apostolic Palace.

And he took his upright piano with him.

Unlike his immediate predecessor, who enjoyed singing but had something of a tin ear, the new Pope is a lover of classical music and likes to play Mozart and Bach for relaxation and pleasure.

His former housekeeper Ingrid Stampa was a music teacher before she came to Rome to keep house for the cardinal.

They used occasionally to play duets together. She taught the viola da gamba, an antique stringed instrument resembling the modern cello.

Papal makeover

The Pope's upright piano is now in his study, the room overlooking Saint Peter's Square from the window of which he appears to deliver his Sunday blessing to pilgrims.

Piano player
The Pope has moved his upright piano into the papal study

The papal apartment has seven large rooms plus a private chapel, a roof garden and staff quarters for the German Benedictine nuns who now keep house for Benedict.

It was partly redecorated immediately after the death there of Pope John Paul II.

The whole apartment - which had been occupied for 26 years by John Paul - will be refurbished during next summer while the pope is in residence at Castelgandolfo. That is his official residence from July to September, when Romans fortunate enough to do so traditionally flee the city to avoid the oppressive heat.

Before the unification of Italy in 1870, popes used to live at the Quirinal Palace in the centre of Rome and were often seen travelling around the city.

Because of the anti-clerical nature of the regime which ruled Italy at that time, Pope Pius IX took refuge inside the Vatican and rarely ventured outside its walls.

Cats in a basket
The pope is a cat lover, but pets are not allowed in the Vatican
The Quirinal Palace no longer belongs to the Vatican; today it is the official residence of the Italian President.

The new pope is a cat lover and one Rome newspaper reported - erroneously as it turned out - that the new Pope had decided to take his two cats into the Apostolic Palace.

This caused some official eyebrows to be raised, as caged birds and animals are not allowed inside today.

Animal lovers

Some former popes have kept pets, however.

Leo XII, who reigned in the early years of the 19th Century, kept a small dog for company.

When he died, according to the memoirs of the first Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Nicholas Wiseman, the animal was taken to London by an English aristocrat, Lady Shrewsbury, where "the late pope's dog" used to attract attention when it was walked in Hyde Park.

Later popes built aviaries in the Vatican gardens, and Pope Pius XII kept caged birds in the papal apartment - two goldfinches and a woodpecker from the Black Forest in Germany.

They were occasionally allowed outside their cages.

Pope Benedict has resumed many of the Roman habits of his predecessor.

Benedict XVI's Heraldic Shield
The new coat of arms: Topped with a bishop's mitre instead of a crown
Although for security reasons he can no longer go for walks unaccompanied in the streets around the Vatican as he used to do when he was cardinal, sometimes lingering in a bookshop or eating in a local trattoria, he has already won admiration for his growing rapport with ordinary Catholics.

In his former job as head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he seemed a remote and rather unapproachable figure.

Since his election he has become more eager to reach out to ordinary people.

At the end of his latest general audience at the Vatican this week, the Pope spent almost an hour moving among the crowds, talking to the sick, caressing babies, and giving blessings to pilgrims.

And Benedict's new coat of arms reflects this new sense of humility and simplicity.

His heraldic shield is topped not by the papal tiara or crown, but by a simple bishop's mitre.


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific