VATICAN CITY —
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 have come for spells of a few years, said Giovanni Maria Vian, 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 The Associated Press. 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 the nuns living there would tend to the lemon and orange trees as well as the roses, which are used in liturgical ceremonies or sent as gifts to the pope. No chemical fertilizers are used, just organic fertilizer sent straight from the gardens at Castel Gandolfo.
Georg Ratzinger confirmed that his brother has no intention of returning to live in his native Bavaria.
"You don't transplant an old tree," Ratzinger said.