VATICAN CITY (AP) — For months, construction crews have been renovating a four-story building attached to a monastery on the northern edge of the Vatican gardens where nuns would live for a few years at a time in cloister.
Only a handful of Vatican officials knew it would one day be Pope Benedict XVI's retirement home.
On Tuesday, construction materials littered the front lawn of the house and plastic tubing snaked down from the top floor to a cargo container. The restoration deadline has become even more critical following Benedict's stunning announcement that he will resign Feb. 28 and live his remaining days in prayer.
From a new name to this new home to the awkward reality of having a reigning pope and a retired one, Benedict is facing uncharted territory as he becomes the first pontiff in six centuries to retire. The 85-year-old Benedict said Monday he was stepping down because he simply no longer had the strength in mind or body to carry on.
Although no date for a conclave has been announced, it must begin within 20 days of his Feb. 28 retirement. That means a new pope will likely be elected by the College of Cardinals by Easter — March 31 this year.
The decision immediately raised questions about what Benedict would be called, where he would live — and how that might affect his successor.
The Vatican's senior communications adviser, Greg Burke, said Tuesday the fact that Benedict had chosen to live in a monastery is significant.
"It is something that he has wanted to do for a while," Burke said. "But I think it also suggests that his role is going to be a very quiet one, and that is important so you don't have a situation of ... two different popes at the same time, and one influencing the other.
"I think the obvious thing is when he says retirement, it really means retiring," he said.
As for his name, Burke said Benedict would most likely be referred to "Bishop of Rome, emeritus" as opposed to "Pope Emeritus." The Vatican's spokesman, The Rev. Federico Lombardi, also said Benedict would take some kind of "emeritus" title.
Other Vatican officials said it would probably be up to the next pope to decide Benedict's new title, and wouldn't exclude that he might still be called "Your Holiness" as a courtesy, much as retired presidents are often referred to as "President." It was not clear whether the retired pope will retain the name Benedict - or revert to being called Joseph Ratzinger again.
Benedict had important unfinished business before his retirement: He has been widely expected to issue his fourth encyclical, concerning faith, before Easter. But Lombardi on Tuesday ruled out that the encyclical would be ready before his retirement.
Already, he was changing his schedule to take into account his new circumstances. He had been scheduled to go to a church on Rome's Aventine hill for the annual Ash Wednesday service this week starting the church's Lenten season; the service will take place in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome instead. The official reason given by Lombardi is that a larger space was needed to accommodate the throngs expected to greet the outgoing pope - but observers suspect the Vatican may also want to spare Benedict from the crowds along the hill.
Immediately after his resignation, Benedict will spend some time at the papal summer retreat in Castel Gandolfo, overlooking Lake Albano in the hills south of Rome where he has spent his summer vacations reading and writing. By March, the weather may start to warm up and he should be able to enjoy the gardens and feed the goldfish in a pond near a statue of the Madonna where he often liked to visit.
If he's interested, he can do some star gazing; The Vatican Observatory is located inside the palazzo, complete with a telescope and a world-class collection of meteorites.
Lombardi said Benedict would eventually return to the Vatican and live at a monastery inside the Vatican gardens. Asked if he might like to go somewhere else, Lombardi said the pope would feel "much safer" inside the Vatican walls.
The Mater Ecclesiae monastery was built in 1992, on the site of a former residence for the Vatican's gardeners. Pope John Paul II had wanted a residence inside the Vatican walls to host contemplative religious orders, and over the years several different orders would come for spells of a few years, said Giovanni Maria Vian, the editor of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.
The last such order of nuns left the residence in October, and renovation work began immediately afterward, Vian told AP. He said Benedict had decided to retire last April after his taxing but exhilarating trip to Mexico and Cuba in March.
"Many people thought they were doing the renovations for new sisters, but it was for the pope," Vian said. He said only a few people knew of the pope's plans, yet the secret didn't get out.
"That shows the seriousness and loyalty of the few senior Holy See officials who were aware," he said — a reference to the 2012 scandal over leaked papal documents by the pope's own butler.
Benedict has visited the monastery, with its own chapel on the grounds, a handful of times over the years.
There's a garden right outside the front door, where nuns living in the residence would tend to the lemon and orange trees and the roses, which are used in liturgical ceremonies or sent as gifts to the pope. No chemical fertilizers were used, just organic fertilizer sent straight from the gardens at Castel Gandolfo.
Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield
Trisha Thomas and Victor L. Simpson in Rome contributed.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.