You are probably aware that the Catholic Church has some of the most impressive and ornate churches in the world. But have you ever wondered about the other properties in their portfolio?
The Vatican is owned by the Holy See, also known as the Holy See. The Vatican is the only independent city-state anywhere in the world. The nation has a population of less than 1,000 and prints its own passports. They also have their own media and maintain their own mail services. The nation’s small size does not prevent it from occasionally acquiring territory.
Contrary to what conspiracy theorists may believe, the Holy See doesn’t have any shadowy influence in the property markets around the world. However, it actually has more papal properties beyond the walls of the Vatican City than inside them. Some of the wealth of the Catholic Church comes from its diverse investments.
Their property portfolio includes luxury palaces, London apartment blocks and improbable treasures. They also have an archive that contains some of the most important documents written ever, as well as a powerful telescope. This is a list that we think you have never heard about some of our favorite papal properties:
La Scala Sancta
The Scala Sancta consists of 28 steps made from white marble in Rome, near the Lateran Basilica. These stairs lead to Sancta Sanctorum, or Holy of Holies. This is the first private Papal chapel. Although they don’t represent a significant increase in catholic church property, they are an important one. They are believed to be the same steps Jesus Christ took in Jerusalem while he was on his way to being tried with Pontius Pilate. They were believed to have been brought to Rome by St. Helena (mother of Constantine The Great) in the fourth century and used to reach to the Lateran Palace.
The stairs can be climbed only on the knees and are now covered with wood. Pilgrims come from all parts of the globe to climb the Holy Stairs in order to honor and pray for Jesus’ Passion. All are welcome to use the stairs. The Holy See owns the Scala Sancta Chapel and the Sancta Sanctorum Chapel. Only the Vatican can control them.
Did You Know: According Catholic tradition. Perhaps St. Helena is the greatest relic hunter ever. Her son sent her to the holy country to find such items. She returned to Rome with a huge number of relics, including fragments of the True Cross, nails used during the Crucifixion, pieces from the rope Jesus was tied to, earth from Golgotha and the Holy Robe.
How to get there
You can reach Piazza Venezia by bus: 81-85 – 87-850, or Termini Station by 16 – 714-360 or the San Giovanni metro stop. The Sancta Sanctorum is free and open for all. It costs EUR 3,50 per person. For more information, visit the Scala Sancta page . Address: Piazza St. Giovanni in Laterano, 14 – 00184 Roma
Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo
One of the most beloved and loved pieces of real estate in catholic churches is the Apostolic Palace, also known as Papal Palace. It was used as a vacation home and summer residence for the Pope for almost 400 years. The Palace was designed by Carlo Maderno Baroque architect, but it is not part of the town or to Italy.
Its status of an extraterritorial property by the Holy See proved to be a tremendous help during World War II. Pius XI made a public withdrawal from the Palace during Hitler’s visit to Rome. Later, he used it to shelter refugees. They were protected by the special legal status (and neutral) of the church. According to some estimates, Castel Gandolfo’s Palace and grounds housed hundreds of Jewish refugees who were also being targeted by war. As refugee mothers sought safety, the gardens also had a temporary maternity ward. There were 40 children born there.
The popularity of the palace has fluctuated depending on Pope Francis. Pope John XXIII was frequently seen in the town, chatting to locals. Pope John Paul II spent over five years of his 16 year pontificate in this area, according to one estimate.
What to do:
You could not visit the Vatican Museums for a long period of time without a guide. Individuals could only visit at 10.30 on Saturdays (EUR26). The tour was also in Italian. The Vatican opened the tour to select operators this year, and Walks of Italy now offers an tour of Castel Gandolfo.
The Gardens of Castel Gandolfo
The Apostolic Palace covers 55-hectares of land at Castel Gandolfo. Much of this area has been transformed into beautiful gardens. The same plot was once the site of the ancient residence and home of Emperor Domitian. Since the 17th century, when the gardens were first designed and landscaped, the Holy See purchased the property.
The shady holm oaks, cedars, and begonias you see today weren’t planted until Pope Pius XI renovated it after the Holy See claimed the palace in 1929. He didn’t just add plants to the newly restored grounds. Pius XI modernized the area by adding radios and telephones to the site, as well as lights, and even a greenhouse. These were useful in feeding all the refugees who fled the Second World War.
Did You Know: The addition of a chlorinated pool to the gardens by Pope John Paul II created a minor controversy. His Successor, Benedict XVI is believed to have preferred the shaded lanes of Giardino Della Madonnina.
For the first time, the Vatican has opened Castel Gandolfo up to the public.
The grounds are open to the public every day except Sunday. They include the Apostolic Palace, Villa Barberini and the Villa Barberini. These were built on the first century AD ruins of Emperor Domitian’s country residence.
The Walks of Italy tours will leave from the Vatican City in the official train that is reserved for the Pope, the Swiss Guard and Vatican citizens. Castel Gandolfo, with its stunning scenery and tranquil atmosphere, is only 25 km from Rome.
Pope Francis’s opening up Castel Gandolfo wasn’t the only positive change he has made to the Vatican. Read our article about the new Pope.
The Holy House of Loreto
Another humble structure, whose enormous value rests on its spiritual merits. At first glance, it appears to be a strange piece of church real property – a house no one lives in. According to legend, the Holy House is the home of Mary. It is not a church, though, but the actual place where Mary lived, conceived and raised Jesus.
St. Helena built a basilica over the Nazareth building, which was a remnant of her humble building. It stood until the fall of the Kingdom. According to Catholic tradition, the Turks stormed the gates in 13th century. Angels miraculously moved the house from its original site to Croatia.
Three years later, during the Muslim invasion in Albania, angels moved the house from Recanati to Italy. The final and third move of the house was made from Recanati to Loreto.
Recent church investigations have confirmed that the house was indeed from the Holy Land. However, historians tend not to support the idea of angels and instead favor an aristocratic Loreto family called “Angelo”, who paid for the transport of the whole structure or part thereof to Italy. It was a huge undertaking. Regardless of whether it was angels, or just a few determined crusaders; its presence in Loreto was a minor miracle.
Every year, thousands of pilgrims visit the basilica around the house. It has been a Catholic pilgrimage spot since at least 14 centuries ago. Some consider the multitude of miracles that are said to have occurred within the basilica even more significant than its murky origins.
Did You Know: Our Lady of Loreto, patron saint of pilots as well as all those who work in aviation, was able to fly from Nazareth to Italy via Croatia.
How to get there
Loreto can be found just off the Autostrada A14, which runs between Bologna and Pescara (south). Parking is available below the basilica for a fee. The Basilica is available from 6:15 to 7:30 p.m. Address: Piazza della Madonna, 1, 60025 Loreto AN
Mount Graham International Observatory Research Telescope
This is one that you won’t believe: The Holy See owns a state of the art observatory on Mount Graham in Tucson. What would you expect from a group that is interested in the relationship of Heaven and Earth? They have not always been friendly to astronomers. Apart from the heresy trial against Galileo the Holy See is also known for persecuting and eventually executing Giordano Bruno, a 16th-century monk who suggested that stars were other suns in this universe.
Castel Gandolfo was the first Vatican observatory to be established in 1891. However, its astronomical institute dates back to 1500. It is one of the most established astronomical institutes worldwide, although it has not always been at the forefront of astronomical thinking.
The Vatican established a second research centre on Mt. Vatican because of the light pollution caused by the growth of cities in Italy. Graham, one the best astronomical sites on the continent of the United States. The Observatory constructed the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope in 1993 with funding from Fred A. Lennon. Forbes once called him “the shiest billionaire”.
You can go on guided tours of Mt. Graham will show you the ecology of the mountain as well as the three telescopes at its summit. Only one of these telescopes is owned by the Holy See. You must book in advance for tours that run from Mid-May to October. For more information, visit their website.
The Vatican Secret Archives
Although we hate to be a killjoy, the Secret Archives aren’t really “secret” – it’s more of an awkward translation from the original Latin that is closer to “private”. However, anyone can walk in to have a look.
These archives were established in 1612 and contain some of history’s most significant documents. They include the papal bull excommunicating Martin Luther, which effectively started the Protestant Reformation. The request to cancel King Henry VIII’s marriage with Catherine of Aragon was denied. Also, transcript notes from Galileo Galilei’s 17th-century trial of heresy (maybe you don’t mention that if your visit Mt. Graham,) and letters by Abraham Lincoln, Christopher Columbus, and Michelangelo.
It’s not just the property lines of this Holy See property that are so fascinating, but the incredible amount of information, history, and even the occasional secret that makes it one of the most remarkable Holy See properties.
Although this list already includes a house within the church of Loretto, we’d be remiss if not to mention Porziuncola, which is the Holy See’s church within the church of Porziuncola. The Franciscans’ starting point is this humble chapel that sits within the Papal Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels In Assissii.
According to legend, St. Francis of Assisii received the chapel in the 13th Century shortly after he founded his monastic order. It has been a popular pilgrimage site since the time Francis of Assisii died in a cell near the church in 1226. How did they manage to get it into the basilica? They didn’t. They built the basilica in its place. Fun fact: The tiny chapel is one the most copied structures in Catholicism, with five replicas scattered throughout the United States.