The announcement that Pope Benedict XVI would be entering retirement as of Feb. 28 created a number of questions that remain unanswered at this time. The Vatican has said that he plans to spend his retirement in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery within the Vatican. Established about two decades ago, the small monastery has housed several groups of cloistered nuns with the express intent of assisting the Holy Father through prayer and work.
The last group of nuns left in November and the Vatican began refurbishing the building. One of the last of the sisters to live there told the Catholic News Agency that
the building had not been refurbished in 18 years and needed minor repairs.
“We had humidity in the basement, the windows needed changing, and the terrace on top needed fixing and painting because of past snow,” she explained.
“But the building is very small, so they had to wait for us to leave to begin working on it.”
The National Catholic Reporter fills in some of the details.
The monastery — a building of about 4,300 square feet — had 12 monastic cells and a chapel. The complex, mostly hidden from view by a high fence and hedges, includes a vegetable garden. It occupies about 8,600 square feet on a hill to the west of the apse of St. Peter’s Basilica.
There is little historical precedence for the Pope’s retirement. It has been 6 hundred years since the last one. Many past abdications were forced, by secular rulers or religious infighting.
Benedict has suggested that he will live a life of prayer in the monastery. Whether that means he will be cloistering himself, or becoming a hermit, is unclear. He could ask to be received into a religious order that lives by a rule and practices some form of solitary prayer, such as the Carthusians or the Camaldolese. He may also choose a simple life of prayer, contemplation and writing aided by his staff.