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The Feast of Saint Matthew the Apostle
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Did you know? An American brought the first car to the Vatican

© Musei Vaticani | Antoine Mekary for Aleteia

I.Media for Aleteia - published on 08/24/21

The car arrived in the Vatican in 1909, but like many of the first popemobiles, stood still for twenty years.

The Vatican always has delicious surprises in store. In the middle of the smallest state in the world, under the perfectly manicured lawns of the magnificent gardens, hides…a garage.

After having strolled for hours in the splendid galleries of the Vatican Museums, visitors can continue their visit down a ramp and reach the Carriage Pavilion. Inaugurated in April 1973 by Paul VI, it contains a marvelous collection of vehicles used by the sovereign pontiffs. There are sedan chairs, protocol or travel coaches, but also motor cars.

Archbishop Farley gifts car to Pope Pius X

An American brought a motor vehicle into the Vatican for the first time. In 1909, the Archbishop of New York, Bishop John Farley, in fact donated a 20/30 Itala to Pope Pius X. With this car produced by the young Italian firm—which went bankrupt in 1934—the Pope could now travel at a speed greater than that of a coach.

But Pius X refused the experience. At 74, the pontiff preferred to walk through the Vatican Gardens in a quieter and more comfortable horse-drawn carriage.

Elegant horse-drawn carriages on display

Among the coaches on display is the so-called “travel” one made by Roman craftsmen in the previous century. Elegant, it was used until the pontificate of Benedict XV (1914-1922) since the coat of arms of the 258th successor of Peter remains on both doors. But it was above all Pius IX (1846-1878) who used it, notably during his visit in 1857 to the Legation of Romagna, north of the Papal States. According to the Vatican Museums, this trip is said to be “the last visit of a Pope-King.”

Prisoners of the Vatican

World events completely shake up the course of papal history, and, indirectly, of papal movements. Although Pius X did not seem to bother to take an interest in his Itala 20/30, it was probably because of the situation of the papacy at this time. Since 1870 and the capture of Rome by Italian troops, the popes claimed to be prisoners in the Vatican. Not recognizing the new Italian state, they refused to go out, not even to travel a few kilometers to their cathedral, Saint John Lateran.

The first popemobiles stood still

In this context, and in a space reduced to a few hectares of the Vatican, the use of a popemobile appears to be of little interest. However, in 1896, on the very first film in history showing a pope, we can still see Leo XIII in a coach wandering through the Vatican Gardens.

The Italian manufacturer Bianchi offered Benedict XV a car in 1922 and then another car four years later, but the pontiff would not use them.

Thus: the first popemobiles actually stood still. This situation would last until December 22, 1929, a historic day during which Pius XI climbed into a black Graham Paige type 837 to go to the Lateran.

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