Or how about some new luggage for the holidays? The Vatican shop stocks a variety of Samsonite Cordoba Duo carry-ons for $162, a nice markdown from the $178 on the Samsonite website. But if a last-minute shopping splurge is in order, the Vatican can also oblige: Take this leather-bound travelling trunk from Florence’s “The Bridge” leatherworks, with its five drawers, plaid interior, six wooden hangers and shiny brass buckles.
At $7,750, it comes with a matching leather golf club bag, just what every monsignor needs under his Christmas tree.
There’s a little-known open secret in the Vatican gardens, a few paces behind St. Peter’s Basilica and tucked inside the Vatican’s old train station: a sprawling, three-story tax-free department store that rivals any airport duty free or military PX, stocking everything from Church’s custom grade shoes, $636 a pair, to Baume et Mercier watches (ladies $2,088, men’s Capeland $5,000).
There’s a hitch, however. It’s not open to the public, only to Vatican citizens, employees and their dependents, diplomats accredited to the Holy See and (unofficially) their lucky friends who, after stocking up on holiday must-haves, proceed to the checkout with their Vatican connection and the ID card that entitles them to shop there.
To be sure, Rome is no stranger to tax-free shopping. Embassies, nearby military bases and the U.N. food agencies all have commissaries for their employees, where imports of everything from American ice cream to French wine can be had minus the 21 percent sales tax included in list prices in Italy.
The Vatican has that and more, given that it’s its own sovereign state — the world’s smallest — operating in central Rome. At 44,110 acres, the Vatican city state is the physical home of the Holy See: the pope and governing structure and administration of the Catholic Church.
The Vatican Museums, home of the Sistine Chapel, are the main profit-making enterprise of the Vatican city state, bringing in $120 million in revenue last year alone. But other smaller entrepreneurial endeavors boost the Vatican’s coffers as well, including the department store, the tax-free gas station, the stamp and coin collecting office, the Vatican pharmacy and its supermarket.