No one thinks it strange that the pope should live in what used to be the servants bedrooms of his palace, and few are those that think of the astounding changes which in less than a century have removed the pontiff from the gilded salons of the Quirinal to the attics of the Vatican. What were regarded as misfortunes at the time has, however, proved to be blessings: the temporal kingdoms of the popes had vanished but the Holy Fathers realm has been extended in the minds and consciences of some four hundred million people in all parts of the world. [Here we see how great the increase of Catholics had been over the past half a century. Today 1,2 billion members!]
The Popes window on the top floor of the Apostolic palace is now better known than most of the sights in Rome. How the ghosts of Borgia and Medici, of Aldobrandi and Borghese, which surely haunt the corridors of the Vatican, must gaze in astonishment at the simplicity of the Popes [Pius XII] attic bedroom and the frugal room where he eats alone while, we are told, two canaries are let loose from their cage to fly about and settle on his arm or shoulder.
The reign of simplicity was inaugurated by St Pius X, who broke through Vatican etiquette when he showed no desire, upon being elected Pope in 1903, to leave the humble room which had been assigned to him for the Conclave. Stories are still told of his humility and simplicity. When the Vatican authorities realised that he would never consent to descend to the papal apartments on the second floor, they altered for him the top floor which has since been occupied by every succeeding Pope (Morton, pp.355-356)".
Morton tells of his awe when he was called upon by an official at the Vatican for the first time: There is no other example of such continuity as the Papal Curia. For sixteen centuries it had been seated either at the Lateran Palace, at Avignon, or at the Vatican: the papacy has had only three addresses since the time of Constantine the Great!
Morton then quotes Thomas Hobbes famous words: The Papacy is not other than the Ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof, which he finds extreme and in need of qualification. But many had noted the similarity of the Latin Churchs structure to that of the old Roman Empire, he says. The Church also uses many imperial terms, such as: diocese, prefecture, vicariate, consistory. And when the Pope appoints a representative he is called a legate, as he would have been in the days of Julius Caesar.
To Mortons mind one of the most remarkable annexations is the title of Pontifex Maximus. Pontifex means bridge-builder and this title was given to the high priest in ancient Rome because of certain ceremonies which were performed to propitiate the spirits of the Tiber [river], to compensate them for the building, in remote times, of Romes first wooden bridge. Julius Caesar was the Pontifex Maximus at the time of his murder. It seems that this pagan title was transferred to the Pope as early as the time of Leo I, in 440.
Longfellow, in "The Golden Legend", is quoted:
"Well has the name of Pontifex
Unto the Churchs head, as the chief builder
And architect of the invisible bridge
That leads from earth to heaven."
I will come back to this thread with more "news" as soon as I find time. In the meantime other members can perhaps add posts and replies from the Roman traveller's point of view.