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Popemobiles put on display at Vatican Museums

Exhibition includes the jeep Blessed Pope John Paul II was travelling in when he was shot and an immense horse-drawn carriage made in 1826

By on Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A 'Gala Berlin' carriage, made around 1825 during the pontificate of Pope Leo XII (Photo: CNS)

A 'Gala Berlin' carriage, made around 1825 during the pontificate of Pope Leo XII (Photo: CNS)

The white open-air jeep Blessed John Paul II was riding in when he was shot May 13, 1981, has been taken out of storage and put on display in the Vatican Museums’ newly revamped Popemobile Pavilion.

Sandro Barbagallo, art critic at the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, said the move was not meant to sensationalise the tragic event or turn it into a sideshow, but to highlight the car that has become “highly symbolic” of that fateful day and help people “reflect on the value of life and everything John Paul did”.

Mr Barbagallo was the driving force behind restoring and reopening the Museums’ permanent exhibit of historic modes of papal transport. The grand opening took place on October 16 – the 34th anniversary of Blessed John Paul’s election as pope.

The underground exhibit, which houses more than a dozen ornate papal carriages and nine papal cars, had been open only sporadically over the years. Deciding to put the 1980 white Fiat Campagnola on display was the impetus to re-launch the space and keep it open to the public to showcase its other transport treasures of the popes.

Some gems include:

- The very last Volkswagen Beetle to roll off the production line in Mexico. The light teal 2003 Bug with whitewall tires was donated to Blessed John Paul in 2004 to thank him for visiting the country in 2002.

- The steering wheel of a Ferrari Formula One racing car donated to Blessed John Paul in 2005 by the car-maker’s president, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo. An accompanying plaque honors the pope for his “26 years in the pole position on the roads of humanity”.

- An immense six-horse-drawn Gran Gala gilded carriage whose wooden wheels are more than five feet high. It was built around 1826 for Pope Leo XII.

But when horse-drawn carriages started giving way to automobiles, the Vatican was slow to follow.

Archbishop John Farley of New York gave an Itala to Pope Pius X in 1909.

The pope refused to accept the newfangled contraption, saying he preferred the “clippity-clop” of horses pulling his Landau carriage to the “chugga chugga” of a gasoline engine, Mr Barbagallo told Catholic News Service.

A car would have been useless at the time anyway since a dispute with the Italian government over the sovereignty of the Holy See kept popes confined inside the tiny 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 Detroit-made Graham Paige.

The auto-producing Graham brothers donated the vehicle to the pope, who used it for the very first time he or any pope was able to leave the Vatican in nearly 60 years.

It was also used by Pope Pius XII when he went to visit Rome’s San Lorenzo neighborhood to comfort residents in the wake of a deadly US bombing raid of the area in 1943.

The exhibit also includes the first official white “popemobiles”. The first white off-road open-air vehicle used by a pope was a 1976 Toyota Land Cruiser used periodically by Pope Paul VI. That was followed by the 1980 Fiat Campagnola, a 1983 Land Rover Santana and a 1990 Mercedes-Benz 230.

Currently, the papal fleet has three cars that carry the pope: two black sedans and a white Mercedes-Benz popemobile, Mr Barbagallo said.

The “Graham Paige 837″ was donated by the Graham brothers of the United States in 1929 to Pope Pius XI to mark the occasion of the Lateran agreement between Italy and the Vatican

This Mercedes-Benz sedan was used as a papal automobile beginning in the 1960s and continuing through the early part of the pontificate of Pope John Paul I.

  • Emanuel Mikaelsson

    So they’ve gotten worse and worse with time. What a surprise!

  • Emanuel Mikaelsson

    So they’ve gotten worse and worse with time. What a surprise!

  • Ghengis

    That part of the museum look like an ugly warehouse. Why such bad taste? even something simple can be beautiful if done with taste which it hasn’t here. I would not spend money on this part of the museum.

  • Tyrone Beiron

    Time for a Top Gear special, perhaps?! I wonder which one The Stig will test drive.

  • U.S. Female

    Personally I think it would be cool if they made the decor resemble the inside of a mechanic’s garage, or something similarly “automobile”-y.  I am trying to figure out what type of “beautiful” surroundings you would display cars in.  I guess it might look pretty cool if they decorated with some authentic ancient Roman columns and added a couple of Roman chariots, or at least replicas if they don’t have any real ones.  I wonder if St. Peter ever rode in one of those ?

  • Lop12345

     It is not what you put on but what comes out of you. St. Peter would have used them if these cars were then. St. Peter used ship and St. Paul rode on horse and traveled by ship. Why did Jesus Christ rode on a donkey’s back in his final trip to Jerusalem? Or why did Jesus Christ allowed a costly oil to be pour on his leg?

  • Scourby

    That 1920s car is so cool, love it.

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