When the Pope approaches the pilgrims in St. Peter’s square, during the weekly Wednesday audience, he’s usually riding what most of us now call “the Popemobile”. The Popemobile is, quite literally: a pope-carrying vehicle. Before the Popemobile, there was the sedia gestatoria, which was a chair carried on the shoulders of papal attendants.
The sedia gestatoria fell out of use with John Paul II. Although many countries offered vehicles for the Pope to ride during his visits, the first vehicle which bore Vatican State tags was a Fiat Campagnola. It had to be retrofitted with bulletproof glass, however, after the 1981 assassination attempt of John Paul II. Pope Benedict XVI most often used a Mercedes-Benz M-Class sport utility vehicle while traveling abroad. It was outfitted with a special glass-enclosed room with its own oxygen supply built into the back of the vehicle, giving it a distinct look.
The pope would enter through a rear door and ascend several steps. He would sit in a chair made from white leather with gold trim which is then elevated into the glass room by a hydraulic lift, allowing him to be more easily seen. In addition to the driver, there is room for one passenger (usually a security agent) in the front of the vehicle. The glass-enclosed rear of the vehicle also has room for two papal aides who can sit in the area in front of the pope’s elevated chair. The vehicle’s security features include bulletproof glass windows and roof, both able to withstand explosions, and reinforced, armored side panels and undercarriage designed to resist bomb blasts.
At 2011 prices, the popemobile cost approximately £345,000. Pope Francis I prefers a much simpler lifestyle. He was using public transport when he was a cardinal and now drives a Ford Focus from the Vatican motor pool. When he is driven around St. Peter’s square, he favors a windowless popemobile so as to be more accessible.
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