The Popes in motion

Postal service and the “boot”

In the pavilion are also the last two carriages used up until 1929 within the Vatican. The first is the traveling berlin given to Pope Pius IX by the king of Naples on his reentry from exile after the revolutionary movement of the Roman Republic in 1850. It is a carriage equipped with a trunk and used to transport mail. The second is characterized by a modern leather handbrake, called a ‘boot’. It was used on what would be the final trip of a Papal King in the papal territory of Romagna. Its use up into recent times is attested to by an old film shot by a collaborator of the Lumiere Brothers. In it, Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) is shown walking through the Vatican Gardens.

Detail of Pope Leo XIII's sedan chair
Detail of Pope Leo XIII’s sedan chair

Sedan chair in the shape of a boat

From among the sedan chairs on display, one that stands out was donated by the faithful of Naples to Pope Leo XIII in 1887 for the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination. It is in the shape of a boat, the symbol of the Catholic Church, whose helm is in the hands of the Supreme Pontiff. It is truly a work of fine craftsmanship, richly decorated in wood, bronze, ivory, bone, glass and cameos.

From carriage to automobile

Pope Pius XI is the Pope who transitioned from the carriage to the car. Immediately after the signing of the Lateran Pact, he went to the Lateran Basilica to celebrate his 50th anniversary of priestly ordination in an American Graham-Paige. This vehicle was still accessorized like its carriage predecessors in the manner of a ‘throne room’. This was the vehicle that brought Pius XII to the area of Rome called San Lorenzo after it had been bombarded in the Second World War.

Citroën Lictoria C6
Citroën Lictoria C6

The Mercedes designed by Porsche

A car that succeeded the Graham-Paige is an extremely elegant Mercedes Nürburg. Sandro Barbagallo says it was “built at the time in which Ferdinand Porsche worked as a young man in the German automobile industry”.

Then a Citroën Lictoria C6 was used. Manufactured entirely in Italy, it recreates the idea of a carriage transformed into an automobile, featuring two decorative side lights, and the chauffeur’s seat is located outside of the papal ‘chamber’.

Mercedes-Benz 460 Nürburg limousine
Mercedes-Benz 460 Nürburg limousine

The Pope’s push button panel

“The interior, decorated like a Venetian drawing room, contains a push button panel next to the brocade and gilded wood throne. It is a control box through which the Pontiff decided the route: ‘Forward’, ‘slow down’, ‘turn right’, or return to the ‘Vatican’. The driver could see the indications on a small screen located on the dashboard”. Because there was no room left on the dashboard, the water temperature gauge was placed on the hood ornament of the car, behind the Citroën logo. Completing the accessories included in the car is a compartment used to store such things as a breviary, on which is affixed an image of Saint Christopher, protector of travelers. “Perhaps because the car’s accessories were considered excessively luxurious”, notes the Curator of the Department of Historical Collections, “it was not used much and has only 193 km on it”.

Pope's push button panel
Pope’s push button panel

The assassination attempt popemobile

Holy Year 1975. In order to make the rounds of Saint Peter’s Square a number of times and to greet as many pilgrims as possible who had come for the Jubilee Year, Pope Paul VI ordered the acquisition of a Toyota which is preserved today in the Courtyard of Castel Gandolfo. Its immediate successor was a white Campagnola donated by Fiat in 1980 to Pope John Paul II, the Pope who abandoned the use of the sedan chair. Rebaptized as the ‘popemobile’, it can almost be considered a relic since it witnessed the assassination attempt on 13 May 1981, after which it was sequestered under papal secret.

Pope John Paul II's popemobile
Pope John Paul II’s popemobile

Pope John XXIII’s barber’s chair

“In the last years of John Paul II’s pontificate, few realize that it was taken out of retirement and used again. John Paul could no longer stand up. Inside the vehicle”, Sandro Barbagallo reveals, “a revolving chair was installed by the Vatican floreria. It was Pope John XXIII’s old barber’s chair”.

Pope John XXIII on board the Mercedes 300d
Pope John XXIII on board the Mercedes 300d

International journeys

After the assassination attempt, even the Mercedes John Paul II inherited from Pope Paul VI, used through the 26 years of his pontificate, underwent several modifications. The bodywork was armored and 3 cm bulletproof windows were installed. Two armored ‘popemobiles’ are also on display in the Carriage Pavilion. Both were used by John Paul II and acquired for his international apostolic journeys. There is also a Bug produced on the Volkswagen assembly line in Mexico, a gift never used by the Pope. Lastly, there is a prototype, or one-off, the only model that exists in the world, of the Lancia Thesis Giubileo, a gift from lawyer, Gianni Agnelli to the Holy Father.

Pope Paul VI on board an aircraft
Pope Paul VI on board an aircraft

One-of-a-kind model

The Lancia Thesis Giubileo “was designed to meet the ever more precarious health and transportation concerns of the Holy Father [Pope John Paul II]. The seat moves outward, facilitating getting into the car; the vehicle is fully convertible; the door opens at a right angle; the inner shaft is not raised. Because of all this, the car does not move that fast. It is, therefore, comfortable, but not dependable in case of emergency”.

For this reason, Pope Benedict XVI, whose coat of arms is affixed on the doors, made use of it only temporarily. On exhibit in the pavilion are the Mercedes used by Ratzinger and the two ‘coach models’ of the same vehicle used by the Secretariat of State to transport illustrious guests.

Schumacher's steering wheel given to Pope Benedict XVI
Schumacher’s steering wheel given to Pope Benedict XVI

The Popes and the Formula 1

Benedict XVI was dubbed ‘Christianity’s pilot’ during the dedication ceremony in December 2005 during which Ferrari President Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, presented Michael Schumacher’s 2003 Formula 1 steering wheel. When he received the steering wheel, on exhibit in the pavilion, the current Pope emeritus compared its complicated technology to the “complexity of leading the Church”.

Just a few months prior, Cordero had given Pope John Paul II a special 400 limited edition of the ‘Ferrari Enzo’, which the Pope decided to auction off later. Proceeds from the sale went to the victims of the tsunami in southeast Asia.

Pope Francis's Renault 4
Pope Francis’s Renault 4

Lower class Renault 4

Bringing the course to an end is Pope Francis’s Renault 4. Registered in 1984, it has a 300 thousand km long charitable history. It belonged previously to Father Renzo Zocca, a priest who lived on the outskirts of Verona. In 2013, he decided to restore it and give it to the Holy Father.

Detail of the back window of the Citroën Lictoria C6
Detail of the back window of the Citroën Lictoria C6

Traveling with the Church

Busts of the Popes alternate throughout the pavilion along with the vehicles and other unforgettable paraphernalia bringing to life the history of papal transportation: the model Alitalia airplane that made the first international Apostolic Journey that took Pope Paul VI to the Holy Land in January 1964; or the first train that docked during a test-run at the Vatican train station.

Mounting the ramp that leads to the sun-bathed Square Garden, one gets the impression of having been a passenger for a few hours on board the history of an uninterrupted course of events marked by the wounds and shortcomings of the Church entrusted to Peter which has always risen again, starting out once again along the long march of time.

The fifth in the series on the Sistine Chapel will be published on 28 September

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