Convent of Mater Ecclesiae: Pope Benedict's Home After Stepping Down

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Pope Benedict may be retreating into a life of prayer, but the first pontiff to retire since the Middle Ages will -- physically at least -- remain at the very heart of the Vatican. The convent of Mater Ecclesiae (Mother of the Church) is being renovated, and, following Benedict's sudden resignation, will offer him a substantial four-story modern home. It comes complete with contemporary chapel, garden and a roof terrace looking out from a rise dominated by the Holy See's TV transmission tower.

Convent of Mater EcclesiaeThe 20-year-old gated compound could hardly be more central to the 100-acre Vatican City, the microstate inside central Rome where Benedict will remain head of state until Feb. 28. It lies about 200 yards to the rear of St. Peter's Basilica, where his successor may be consecrated next month, in time for Easter. Once renovation work is complete at Mater Ecclesiae, founded in 1994 as a convent for a succession of female monastic orders by Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, the new pensioner will be able to move in. The nuns, who occupied up to 12 cells in the upper floors of the building, have moved out. Who else will live in the compound to serve the former pope is unclear.

Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera said that the refurbishment had begun in November -- at a time when, it seems, few if anyone in the Vatican had an inkling of what was on Benedict's mind. French journalist Charles de Pechpeyrou, who recently visited the building, called it simple and uncluttered, secluded within the Vatican gardens but offering sweeping vistas. From outside the chapel, he said, "one gets a spectacular view over the apse of St. Peter's Basilica, below, over the city of Rome, and on the horizon, to the sometimes snow-capped peaks of the Apennines -- in short, a landscape which surely cannot fail to remind the pope of his native Bavaria."

The gardens, though, offer a haven of only mildly polluted tranquility, where Benedict might encounter his successor strolling the neat lawns, among the lofty palms and vibrant flower beds, where fountains murmur softly in the background. Opting for the convent, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said, was the outgoing pontiff's personal choice. Having passed it daily while walking in prayer, Benedict had several times visited the nuns. The location clearly appealed to him.

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Convent of Mater Ecclesiae: Pope Benedict's Home After Stepping Down (VIDEO)

There are a lot of offbeat conversions out there, but churches? Those might take the cake. (Except for maybe a nuclear plant turned amusement park.) 

Church conversions are still an intriguing thing -- we swear to God -- and, what's more, they also seem to be unusually affordable. What better time to view them than Easter. 

Click through our gallery to see some of the most hallowed real estate on the market. 

Location: Seattle 
Price: $789,000
Beds/Baths: 6/3.5
Sq. Ft.: 6,300

You could call this luxury church conversion: It's got a price tag that dwarfs some of our other picks. "The Big House in Ballard" was built in 1907, and thanks to its revamped interior, now offers six bedrooms. 

See the listing, or watch Zillow's video house tour of the place

The home also serves as a venue for art, music and event "happenings," the listing says. The facade recently had a "Gothic Crow" window installed, which weighs a whopping 2,000 pounds.

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Just beyond double doors in the structure's tower awaits an expansive sanctuary. The former baptismal? It was converted into a bathroom.

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The pastor's office is now a bedroom, and there's an apartment on the property that brings in high rent, the listing says. At the top of the tower is a crow's nest, putting you just a little closer to the Big Guy Upstairs. 

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Boasting a handsome brick facade this 19th century church is now a single family loft, with its own kitchen. 

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The cavernous interior has soaring ceilings that reach 40 feet. There are two oak staircases that put you on the second floor, in reach of the two-story bell tower. 

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The first floor has three bedrooms, and there's a "dining nook" occupying the space where the altar used to stand. 

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Stained-glass windows flood the home with natural light, giving its hardwood floors, an -- you could say -- ethereal glow. 

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Location: Dresden, Tenn. 
Price: $39,900
Beds/Baths: 5/3
Sq. Ft.: 3,902

This Southern church may come off as a bit more modest than some other places of worship-turned-homes in our gallery, but you can't beat the price. $39,900 is already ultra-cheap for a home, but here we're talking 5 acres of property and 3,902 square feet of interior space. 

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Some of home's original holy trappings are still clearly visible. Pictured here is what appears to be the church's pulpit. 

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The home received additions in the 1950s. The home's kitchen, unlike some other parts of the place, conceals the structure's original purpose.   

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Location: Bellevue, Ky. 
Price: $219,500
Beds/Baths: 2/2
Sq Ft: N/A

This striking former church is listed for $219,500. The building houses loft condos and has an enormous stained-glass window. 

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Many of the interior flourishes are a century old, but still appear to be in good condition, like this stained-glass window.

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In an unlikely design trope, the home's interior is, well, hip. The most notable detail to earn that designation? An iPod in-wall music system. 

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Location: Pacific, Mo. 
Price: $174,000
Beds/Baths: 3/2
Sq. Ft.: 3,800

The seller of this home apparently had to cut short his efforts to transform the 125-year-old building into a full-blown residence. The owner got about halfway there, according to MLS.  

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The home offers arched doorways, stained glass, elaborate fixtures and custom woodwork. A wide staircase leads to a space that the seller intended to convert into a master suite. 

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There's a kitchen, an airy foyer, and the great room has two-story high, vaulted ceilings, church-style. The property also has its own fishpond. 


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Location: Bessemer, Mich. 
Price: $68,000
Beds/Baths: 6 units
Sq. Ft.: 3,600

Perhaps our most residential-looking conversion, this former church now houses four apartment units, as well as a duplex. $68,000 brings you six units in all, making the place seem like a heck of an investment opportunity. 

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Location: Britt, Iowa
Price: $39,500
Beds/Baths: 5/2
Sq. Ft.: 4,071

Built in 1900, this repurposed church offers five bedrooms, and has functioned as a home for a while. 

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The exterior makes the building's former purpose quite obvious, but its interior could have you fooled because of an extensive makeover. 

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Location: Flaxton, N.D.
Price: $29,900
Beds/Baths: 0/1
Sq. Ft.: N/A

What's with churches, and being ridiculously cheap? Apparently, for $29,900, you can snag a bona fide cathedral. You're only working with one bathroom though, so the buyer should be prepared to spend some coin on renovations. 

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There are the characteristic vaulted ceilings, and lots and lots of space. Particle board could come in handy in the early stages of an overhaul. 

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This tidy, repurposed church looks almost like a cottage, with its white picket fence and well-kept yard. 

Read Zillow's profile on the home to learn more

The home's highlight may be its expansive living room, flooded by natural light from arched windows. 

Read Zillow's profile on the home to learn more

Get this: the reason why the interior is so snappy is that the former owners, who originally used the place as a wedding chapel, spent $500,000 over four years to convert it into a home. The kitchen features granite countertops and custom cabinetry. 

Read Zillow's profile on the home to learn more

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