When the pope sleeps over, you do more than change the sheets. You commission new ones, embroidered with the papal crest. You bring in a custom-made memory foam mattress that has never been slept on and may never be again. And you scrub.
“It was very clean, extremely clean,” said Ted Resnick, a carpet dealer who got a recent walk-through of the Philadelphia seminary where Pope Francis will spend one night during his coming visit to the United States. “It wasn’t ostentatious, really, but it was very clean.”
The pope, should he look, will find no dust bunnies beneath the beds he will occupy next week in Washington, New York and Philadelphia. For each hour of comfy pontifical slumber, workers have devoted sleepless hours of burnishing, painting and pillow plumping in three rooms that will soon be eligible for an exclusive plaque with these words: The Pope Slept Here.
Frequently, the pope is the last person who ever does.
“No one has used it as a bedroom since the Holy Father was here,” said the Rev. Ronald Cattany of Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, which hosted Pope John Paul II in 1993. The rectory room where the pope slept has been kept largely as he found it 22 years ago, crested linens folded in the dresser, white coverlet on the bed, two chairs used by his security guards eternally stationed outside the bedroom door.
In the case of John Paul, rooms and objects he touched aren’t just cool mementos. Catholics see them as sacred links to a man who was canonized in 2014.
“At this point, it’s considered a second-class relic; he’s a saint,” Cattany said of the small, plain room directly above his own quarters in the rectory. “I say a prayer every time I go in there.”
Now, harried church officials are saying prayers even before the pope climbs between the sheets as they feverishly prepare for the oh-so-holy nights. It’s a job they can’t turn over to the experts at the nearest Ritz-Carlton.
“Popes don’t stay in hotels,” said Rocco Palmo, a Vatican reporter and blogger based in Philadelphia. “They always stay on church property. It’s home turf.”
By custom, the pope sleeps in Vatican diplomatic quarters whenever they are available. In Washington, Francis will bed down in the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See to the United States on Massachusetts Avenue NW, effectively the Vatican’s embassy. In New York, he will stay at the residence of the Apostolic nuncio to the United Nations.
Both facilities have hosted popes in the past, and officials deflected questions about papal sleeping arrangements with practiced tight lips. At the nunciature in Washington, they would say little more than that hundreds of Catholic school children would be bused to the front door to greet the pope whenever he steps out of his D.C. home away from Rome.
The stately Georgian house across from the vice president’s residence at the Naval Observatory is known for well-appointed public rooms on the main floor. But baker Leslie Poyourow, who delivered an 81st birthday cake to Pope Benedict XVI at the house during his 2008 visit to Washington, said the residential sections above were modest.
“I’ve been to the Vatican, and this was the exact opposite,” said Poyourow, who wrangled a six-foot chocolate replica of St. Peter’s Square up to a second-floor parlor. “Understated, I would say.”
In New York, the papal nuncio’s residence is on East 72th Street near Fifth Avenue, a tony park-side address on the edge of Manhattan’s museum row. The neoRenaissance townhouse, home to a 19th-century New York mayor, was fitted with updated wiring and plumbing in advance of Francis’s visit, according to an official with the Holy See Mission, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely.
Popes Benedict and John Paul both stayed there in the past, but the facility is used too much for any one room to be set aside for the exclusive use of popes. Their beds, seats and bathtubs remain in use.
“It’s a great honor to sit in the chair where the pope ate his breakfast,” the official said.
In Philadelphia, where there is no Vatican diplomatic presence, the pope will bunk with the local archbishop, another church custom. When John Paul visited Philly in 1979, he slept in the archbishop’s 23,000-square-foot mansion. But the archdiocese, struggling with money and public image problems in the wake of clergy sex-abuse scandals, sold the mansion in 2012 and refit an apartment for Archbishop Charles Chaput in the 1920s-era faculty wing of the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
Pope watchers say Francis is likely to approve of the room. The pontiff downgraded his own digs in Rome from the Apostolic Palace to a Vatican guesthouse.
“I’m sure he’s going to be perfectly fine with it,” said Monsignor Michael Magee, who lives on the seminary campus. “They are rather simple accommodations, not extravagant at all.”
The place did get a makeover, though. A chair used by John Paul was sent out for cleaning. Local painters donated their time. Resnick, the co-owner of New Jersey’s Flemington Department Store, laid new carpeting for free, in addition to the thousands of square feet he is supplying for the pope’s public Mass. (Resnick has developed a papal floor-covering specialty, having carpeted part of the outfield of Yankee Stadium for Pope Benedict’s 2008 Mass.)
Stu Carlitz, meanwhile, is proud to be the official mattress supplier for Pope Francis’s Philly sleepover. The head of Bedding Industries of America, a manufacturer for several brands, donated 60 extra-long twin mattresses for the pope’s entourage, which will be housed in dorm rooms on the lower floor of the faculty wing. Then he asked whether he could do the same for the pope himself. Organizers agreed.
“They asked for a mattress that was firm but consisted of gel memory foam,” Carlitz said.
The pope’s sleep number in hand, Carlitz arranged for one of the companies he works with, Saatva, to build a queen-size Loom & Leaf “relaxed firm”
memory-foam mattress with laminated medical-grade gel and an organic-cotton-quilted cover. Retail: $999.
“It’s fantastic for spinal alignment,” said Ron Rudzin, president and chief executive of Saatva.
Philly’s got your back, Your Holiness.
“No one is ever encouraged to go overboard, but it’s the pope!” said Palmo, the Vatican reporter. “They’re going to make sure he has the kind of pillow he wants.”
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