Vatican exhibit of carriages and cars chronicles papal transport

Tue Oct 16, 2012 12:37pm EDT
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Whether they rode in litters carried by men in livery, in ornate horse-drawn carriages, or later in cars, popes have always travelled in style.

Papal vehicles from 1825 to the present day are now on display at a new, updated exhibition at the Vatican Museums that spans nearly two centuries of papal travel.

The most extravagant on display is the Berlina di Gran Gala, built in 1826 for Pope Leo XII. It is essentially a mobile throne-room made of wood with inlays painted in gold leaf.

As ornate was it was, apparently it was not ornate enough for Pope Gregory XVI, who in 1841 added gold-colored angels and statues of two children holding up a tiara and keys -- symbols of papal power.

It was pulled through the streets of 19th century Rome by six horses, each bearing riders dressed in fine livery with papal stems stitched on by golden thread.

"These vehicles from the first ones still in the times of horses to the last ones, the modern cars, show that the pope is a man who lives in the midst of his people, Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, the governor of Vatican City, said at the opening on Tuesday.

The first car entered the Vatican in 1909 but the pope at the time, Pius X, refused to use it.

It was an Itala 20/30 given to him as a gift by the archbishop of New York. But Pius, who was later made a saint, thought it was too noisy for the Vatican gardens so he kept using the papal horse and buggy to take some air.   Continued...

Handout photo of ornate Berlina Gran Gala carriage used in 1826 by Pope Leo XII, released to Reuters October 16, 2012. REUTERS/Musei Vaticani/Handout