The Santa Martha House (Domus Sanctae Marthae) is a modern residence building located near St. Peter’s Basilica on the site of a former hospice for pilgrims. Since its construction in 1996 it has provided housing for prelates and others having business with the Holy See. The five-story building has 106 suites, 22 single rooms, and one apartment. Its management is entrusted to a director, whose appointment is reserved to the Secretariat of State, and its tasks are defined by statute.
In this period of the Sede Vacante, those persons residing in the “Domus” have been moved in order to make the necessary preparations for housing the Cardinal electors. When the Conclave begins, besides the Cardinal electors, the “Domus” will also house those persons resident within the Vatican who also form part of the Conclave, as established in No. 46 of “Universi Dominici Gregis”.
Juridically speaking, the current manifestation of the Domus Sanctae Marthae is a foundation. It was established in 1996 by a chirograph, that is, a hand-written charter, which was penned by Pope John Paul II himself. Today’s building replaces the St. Martha Hospice that was ordered built by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 during the fifth cholera pandemic to care for the sick from the areas around the Vatican. During World War II, the building was used to house refugees, Jews, and ambassadors from countries that had broken diplomatic relations with Italy.
John Paul II’s chirograph states that: “in view of the new situation that has arisen, I have resolved to suppress the previous Foundation in order to establish a new Foundation under the title of “Domus Sanctae Marthae” for the purpose of offering hospitality, in the spirit of true priestly fraternity, to the ecclesiastic personnel in service of the Secretariat of State and, as far as possible, in service of the other Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, as well as the Cardinals and Bishops travelling to Vatican City in order to visit with the Pope or to participate in events and meetings organized by the Holy See. All of this is compatible with the provisions established in the Apostolic Constitution, ‘Universi Dominici Gregis’, which reserves the building’s rooms for the exclusive use of the Cardinal electors during the Conclave for the election of the Supreme Pontiff.”
The other persons, besides the Cardinal electors, who will reside at or enter the “Domus” during the Conclave are those mentioned in “Universi Dominici Gregis” as necessary “to meet the personal and official needs connected with the election process”. These include: the Secretary of the College of Cardinals; the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations; the Masters of Ceremonies; priests from the regular clergy for hearing confessions in the different languages; two medical doctors for possible emergencies; as well as cleaning and cooking staff. All the persons indicated here must receive prior approval from the Cardinal Camerlengo.
During the Conclave the Cardinal electors can walk from the “Domus” to the Sistine Chapel unless they desire to use the small bus that has been placed at their disposition.