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The bedroom of the Domus Sanctae Martae that Pope Francis will live in.

Pope Francis has shunned life in the papal apartments, choosing instead to reside in more modest accomodations in the Vatican's Santa Marta hotel.

Photograph from L'Osservatore Romano/AP

Michele Gravino

for National Geographic News

Published March 28, 2013

In a display of the modesty that seems to be marking the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has decided not to move to lavish papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace—at least not for now.

Instead, the pope intends to stay in the Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican City guesthouse that hosted him and the other Catholic cardinals during the recent conclave, the meeting that ended in Francis's election.

"He is experimenting with this type of living arrangement, which is simple," Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, announced this week. Lombardi said the setup allows Francis "to live in community with others."

The pope has moved out of the room he drew by lot before the conclave and into Casa Santa Marta's suite 201, a room that has slightly more elegant furnishings and a larger living room where he can receive guests.

The guesthouse was built in 1996 on the site of an ancient hospice for the poor. The five-story building has 106 suites, 22 single rooms, and one apartment and sits on the edge of Vatican City. It is regularly inhabited by a few dozen priests and bishops who work in the Vatican. Half the rooms are available for cardinals and bishops visiting Rome for audiences or other official occasions.

Casa Santa Marta's Roots

Regulations for the conclave demand that cardinals live together, separated from the outside world, until a pope is elected. In the past, they'd slept on cots in small rooms adjacent to the Sistine Chapel.

It was Pope John Paul II who called for the construction of a residence where cardinal electors—the cardinals who can cast votes in papal elections—could live during the papal election.

From the Casa Santa Marta, they can reach the Sistine Chapel by shuttle bus or by a short walk inside the Vatican gardens. After the election, the regular occupants return to the guesthouse.

Italian newspaper blog Vatican Insider reported that some objected to the pope staying on after the regular inhabitants returned. "I am used to being with my priests," Francis reportedly replied.

Lombardi added that he does not know how long the Pope will be staying in the guesthouse. Francis is also using the Apostolic Palace, including offices in his papal apartments, to hold meetings and audiences.

Like all of his predecessors since John XXIII in the 1960s, the new pope will appear at the window of his private study on the third floor of the palace every Sunday at noon to address pilgrims in St. Peter's Square and recite the Angelus prayer.

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