Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Papal Transportation

'Go, pope, go!' – Pontiff travels by plane, train, automobile and feet

VATICAN CITY – If children's author P.D. Eastman had written a sequel to his book "Go, Dog. Go!" about dogs on the move, it could have been about the many ways the pope gets around and would be called "Go, Pope. Go!"

Back in the old days, a pope, like many people, was limited to horses and carriages. But he also had the grand "sedia gestatoria," or portable papal throne to move effortlessly through the crowds of the faithful during special ceremonies.

The red velvet chair was carried on the shoulders of 12 "sediari" or chair-carriers dressed in bright red uniforms. But the papal throne was mothballed in 1978 after the start of Pope John Paul I's pontificate.

Modern-day popes get around by car, train, plane and helicopter. And instead of a special chair powered by 24 legs, they now have the gas-powered popemobile, serving much the same purpose: to raise the Holy Father up above the crowds so he can be seen from afar.

The first papal car pulled into the Vatican in 1909 when then-Archbishop John M. Farley of New York donated the newfangled mode of transport to Pope Pius X. However, the pope apparently wasn't impressed with the new technology and stuck to his horse and landau carriage.

But a car would have been useless at the time. Pope Pius didn't have much of anyplace to go since a dispute with the Italian government over the sovereignty of the Holy See kept popes confined to Vatican City from 1870 to 1929.

When the 1929 Lateran Pacts finally allowed popes to go freely outside Vatican City walls, Pope Pius XI became the first pope to put the rubber to the road in a U.S. Graham-Paige.

He amassed a small fleet of donated papal cars and became something of an auto aficionado.

Msgr. Charles Burns, a Scottish historian and retired official of the Vatican Secret Archives, said, "There are photos of (Pope Pius XI) examining the innards of a Mercedes. He was interested in those things" and he would ask all about the car's engine and features before going out for a test ride through the Vatican Gardens.

Soon the so-called "iron horse" puffed its way into town when the first steam locomotive arrived at the Vatican in 1932. However, the first time a pope used the Vatican railroad wasn't until 1962 when Pope John XXIII boarded the papal train to travel to Italy's Assisi and Loreto. Pope John Paul II chugged along the papal tracks twice, once in 1979 and again in 2002 to Assisi.

After being held up in the Vatican for most of his 1903-1914 pontificate, Pope Pius X finally did leave in 1959 when his remains were transferred from the Vatican by papal train to Venice.

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It was interesting just to read about past Papal modes of transportation, for me at least.