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Domus Sanctae Marthae
Domus Sanctae Marthae

The Domus Sanctæ Marthæ (Latin for Saint Martha's House) is a building completed in 1996 adjacent to St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Built during the reign of Pope John Paul II, it functions as a guest house for clergy having business with the Holy See, and as the hotel residence of the members of the College of Cardinals when they are participating in a papal conclave to elect a new pope. Pope Francis made it his home on being elected in 2013.

Building and facilities

Pope John Paul II, after participating in two conclaves, decided to make the process more comfortable and less strenuous on the elderly cardinals, and commissioned the construction of Domus Sanctæ Marthæ. He specified it would serve for conclaves and "ecclesiastical personnel serving at the Secretariat of State and, as far as possible, at other Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, as well as to cardinals and bishops visiting Vatican City to see the Pope or to participate in events and meetings organized by the Holy See." Laymen have stayed there as well.

Italian environmental groups, joined by Italian politicians, protested the construction because it would block the view of St. Peter's Basilica enjoyed from some nearby apartments. The head of the Vatican's Department of Technical Services contended that it would be lower in height than many neighborhood buildings and rejected challenges to the Vatican's right to build within its borders.

The hotel cost US$20 million, with $13 million of it pledged initially by Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, casino owner John E. Connelly, who later received a contract to sell copies of Vatican art in the United States. Connelly did not fulfill his initial financial commitment after his business encountered financial setbacks. His art contract was also rescinded after he failed to extend his marketing efforts beyond Pittsburgh.

The five-story building contains 106 suites, 22 single rooms and one apartment. It is run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul.[1] Its amenities include furnished bedrooms, lavatories, and studies for each occupant. Dining facilities and personal services are also offered. Mary Ann Glendon, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See from 2008 to 2009, described the accommodations as "comfortable, but by no means deluxe".

Previous structure

Pope Leo XIII had the St. Martha Hospice built in 1891, on the site now occupied by the Domus, when it was feared that the cholera epidemic of that time might reach Rome. After it did not, the building was used to provide services to the sick of Rome's Borgo and Trastevere neighborhoods and as a hospice for pilgrims. Electricity was provided in 1901, and a chapel added in 1902. Medical services expanded to cover priests and Swiss Guards. During World War II the building was used by refugees, Jews, and ambassadors from countries that had broken diplomatic relations with Italy. At the end of the war Pope Pius XII greeted 800 Roman children who breakfasted at St. Martha Hospice after making their First Communion. It served as a home where senior clerics could live their last years.[8] Increasingly it served as a residence for clerics assigned to Vatican offices.

Earlier conclaves

Prior to the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis promulgated on February 22, 1996, that changed the rules governing papal conclaves, conclave participants slept in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope, on cots usually borrowed from seminaries in Rome. After participants were sealed there under lock and key, the electors lived in makeshift rooms built throughout the palace, some within hallways and offices. The rooms, assigned to each cardinal by lot, were often divided from one another by a sheet hanging on a rope. Each room was equipped with a crucifix and prie-dieu, a desk, and one or two chairs. The cardinals shared common bathrooms, often with ten cardinals assigned to each. The situation was especially difficult for the elderly among them.


The Domus Sanctae Marthae housed the conclaves of 2005 and 2013.

As with previous practice, the cardinals elector were assigned their rooms by lot. All radios, television sets and telephones were disconnected, in accordance with regulations which call for the cardinals to be secluded from the outside world.

Papal residence

On March 26, 2013, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis would not move into the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace, but would instead use Suite 201 of Domus Sanctae Marthae, after first remaining in the room he was assigned by lot at the start of the conclave that elected him.

Pope Francis is the first pope not to live in the papal apartments on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace since Pope Pius X moved into it in 1903. He uses the palace suite there as his office, and sleeps, says morning mass, and takes communal meals in Domus Sanctae Marthae.