Sede Vacante: Benny Retires to Castel Gandolfo

No government. No pope.  Everything is just chugging right along here in Rome.

I don’t know how you could have possibly missed this news item, but- the pope retired.  I will leave the analysis of this nearly unprecedented act to those who know their history, like Tiffany.

To summarize:

Pope: Bye.
Rome: You’ll be with us always. Thanks, Benny.

And then he got in a helicopter and peaced out to Castel Gandolfo.

Castel Gandolfo has a special place in my heart. It’s scenic, relaxing, and marks the location of my first date with an important boy.  We go visit the small village about 30 minutes outside of Rome several times a year.  I don’t blame the ex-pope for holing up there while Rome figures things out. I’d do the same.

I was at work and missed the historic helicopter flight, so I headed down to the Vatican on Saturday, 2 days into his official retirement.

 It was… quiet.  People were lining up to go in to St. Peters and there was a small religious procession, but overall it seemed very subdued.  I’m not sure what I expected. But it was more than what I got.

But since I couldn’t witness history, I wanted a piece of it.  So I beelined for the RV parked in the middle of square that was serving as a temporary post office. May I just repeat: This was not exactly what I was expecting.

I waited and finally requested my Sede Vacante stamps.  Sede Vacante means “empty seat”.  These stamps and coins are available for only available for the few weeks between when a pope dies, or in Benny’s case retires, and when the conclave elects a new pope.

Actually, it wasn’t quite as simple as “I waited for my stamps and then I got them,” because even though dealing with the Vatican postal service is infinitely less taxing than waiting on the Italian post, there can still be hang-ups.  For example dude gave me normal 70 cent stamps. I proceeded to look at him like he was crazy, because why in the ex-pope’s name would I wait in line for those?

“No,” I insisted. “Sede vacante.” At which point I was informed that there were none.

Again, cue the looking at him like he was crazy because I can literally see a stack of 70 cent stamps two inches beyond the glass partition separating us.  Our Italian exchange went a bit like this:

Me, clarifying: “You don’t have any?”
Him: “None.”
Incredulous me: “What about these here?” (pointing to the stack)
Humorless postal worker: “We don’t have them.”
Annoyed me: “So, (trying to stay calm), you are telling me that I can’t buy these. These. Right here. These!” (At which point I reached my hand under the glass, though this is probably discouraged, and tapped the stack of 70 cent sede vacante stamps).
Power-trippin’ postman: (Looking me dead in the eye) “We don’t have any.”
Touche. 85 cent stamps it is.

I don’t really know why I trekked out there.  I am not overly interested in religion or stamps, but I got caught up in the excitement of living through history.

If you are coming to Rome and taking a Vatican tour, keep in mind that the Sistine Chapel will be closed during conclave (probably from March 11 and then continuing for less than two weeks). Estimates vary, but I would assume they’ll have a new pope in place by Easter.

If you are interested in following the story, I recommend Trisha Thomas’ Mozzarella Mamma blog. She covers the Vatican for the AP, and her personal blog is always up-to-date with the happenings around St. Peter’s.

On a final note, current rumors are that our next pope might be Austrian…

6 thoughts on “Sede Vacante: Benny Retires to Castel Gandolfo

  1. kim says:

    Apparently your postal workers are about as much help as the ones in our local post office. They must have to take a test in order to qualify for that job. LOL.

  2. Tiffany Parks says:

    Hi, Natalie, thanks so much for the link!

    That’s terrible that they refused to sell you those stamps! I would have been livid!! Did he refuse to sell you any or just the 70 cent ones? I was determined not to miss out, so I sent the Maritino and he got a sheet of each of the four denominations. I am kind of obsessed with stamps, particularly Vatican art stamps, and I made a vine of my little collection:

    Yes, I admit it, I am a huge nerd!


    PS The place to go for stamps is the Uffico Filatelico just outside St. Peter’s Square.

    • L'americana says:

      Hi Tiffany- thanks so much for sharing and for the tip! I tried to get out there again today, but I think I may have all the stamps I’m going to get. Enjoy the scene out there next week!

  3. D says:

    He probably had a reason not to sell them (holding for someone or some other thing) but as usual with postal (or bank) employees, he just didn’t have to tell you. Or explain. Or do anything. When I argued in a bank about a “new rule” and demanded (causing a huge scene) that the window flunky show me where in writing this rule was he replied “I don’t have to show you anything.” Oh hail no. Pushing my American need for, you know, information and not blind acceptance, I threatened to call the Guardia di Finanza which led to a woman running over and gently telling the man to do the operation for me “this time.” mah. I’m sorry your pushing didn’t get you farther, but it’s good you at least showed him you were aware of his fool behavior.

    • L'americana says:

      You are absolutely right, I’m sure there was a reason, but I just wasn’t getting an explanation. I love that you threatened to call the Guardia di Finanza!

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