The Italian Almanac

Benedict XVI

Italian News - January 15

The Vatican, citadel of secrets and intrigue, has thrown up another little mystery: what has Pope Benedict been doing on a spate of night-time missions to his old cardinal lodgings? Over the past few weeks the German pontiff has been spotted three times sneaking back to his old room outside the Vatican walls.

At about 9pm a plain dark car carrying 78-year-old Pope Benedict and his private secretary, Don Georg Gaenswein, swirls out of a side door of Vatican city. It then doubles round in the back streets before arriving at Piazza Citta Leonina, a hall of residence for senior church figures and the Pope's home as a cardinal for almost 24 years.

A Vatican security guard is always waiting in front of the apartments in a pedestrian zone tucked behind St Peters Square. The Pope gets out of the car disguised in the plain black priest's robes he wore when he was the Catholic Church's senior theologian. Wearing a black hat and with his head down, he opens the wooden door himself, as he did for all those years, and tiptoes inside followed by Don Georg.

Discretion seems to be the catchword for the Pope's recent evening visits to the security of his old home. The Pope is already starting to gain a reputation for slightly eccentric behavior and a penchant for disguise. At Christmas he delighted crowds by turning out in a red fur-lined hat that used to be worn by popes in the Middle Ages. He has also been seen wearing red Prada shoes and pricey Serengeti sunglasses.