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Alitalia may have had its faults, but how many airlines can claim to have been the “Pope’s Airline” for more than five centuries?

According to Flying Pontiff Quarterly, the trade journal that has been covering papal air travel for a few centuries now, a recent study uncovered a document long buried in the “Overdue” section of the Vatican Library purporting to trace Alitalia’s role as official carrier from the sovereign pontiffs to the papacy of Julius II (1503-1513).

The document, titled in Latin “Numquam Ad Tempus” (“Never on time”), asserts that Alitalia came into being in the early 1500s, a time of great turbulence (great turbolenza) and papal fixation of the belts. security as the Holy See engaged. in fierce power struggles with the Holy Roman Empire, France, Venice, Naples, Florence and Reykjavik.

Julius commissioned Leonardo da Vinci, inventor, painter and versatile man of the Renaissance, to design a “means of transport for the rapid and efficient removal of the person of the sovereign pontiff, in case of inconvenience (spiacevolezza)”.

Leonardo, whose inventions included the helicopter, parachute, golf cart, and cordless electric razor, introduced Julius to what he called Flying Thing, resembling an Airbus A321 and equipped with a distinctive green and red caudal fin (caudal pinna).

Alas, in keeping with his tendency to alienate absolutely everyone, Julius asked Leonardo how his Flying Thing was supposed to fly, being made of marble. Adding insult to injury, he also expressed his displeasure with Leonardo’s tail fin color scheme. The final blow was his suggestion to bring in Michelangelo to “embellish” (“rinfrescare) the first class section of the plane with winged putti frescoes and a huge white dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit.

As you might expect, Leonardo got angry and quickly left for France on a mule, taking the Mona Lisa and the prototype of his cordless razor with him. Michelangelo, pouting over an argument with Julius over the door handles of the Sistine Chapel, refused his pleas.

Successive attempts by Vatican engineers to make Leonardo’s cosa fly have failed, but the Vatican has never completely lost its faith. When Rome was invaded and sacked in 1527 by Spanish and German soldiers, one of Julius’ successors, Clement VII, was discovered, according to the document, “sitting unconsciously but serenely in First Class, calmly pressing the call button of the flight attendant. “

Thus ended the Renaissance era of papal air travel. What the document calls “Long Cancellation” (“la lunga cancelazione”) followed. Pope after pope, he found himself – and his considerable entourage – stranded, their flights cleaned up as Alitalia persisted in trying to get Leonardo da Vinci’s 100,000-ton “popemobile” off the ground. The last attempt was made by pushing him from the Tarpeian rock, the promontory from which, for entertainment purposes, the Roman emperors had criminals and totally innocent people thrown to death.

“Alitalia” has now become a term of derision, meaning “late”, “unreliable” or “worthless”. Namely: “Alitalia! I’ve been waiting here for three hours!

“We need a miracle,” announced a dispirited Pope Innocent X, ordering that senior management at Alitalia be kicked out of the Tarpeian Rock.

Innocent got its miracle, but not for nearly 300 years, when Alitalia engineers came up with the ingenious idea of ​​making flying cose out of metal instead of Carrara marble. Despite the immediate success of the new design, conservative elements in the church grew angry, claiming that the popes had been flying in marble planes for almost 400 years and that aluminum was a “strumento del diavolo” (“tool of the Devil “).

Seeking to end the controversy so that he could complete his 4-hour flight to Castel Gandolfo, Pope Pius XI published his encyclical, “Deus est gubernator auxiliaris meus” (“God is my co-pilot”), emphasizing thus end of the four- century dependence on stone planes.

An unintended and unwanted consequence of Pius XII’s widely acclaimed encyclical was that it enabled Mussolini’s dictatorship. Il Duce was quick to claim credit for the innovation. Insidious and false as it was, it must be admitted that papal air travel during Mussolini’s reign was an era of unprecedented on-time departures and arrivals. Alitalia executives responsible for the rare cancellation or two have reconnected with the Tarpeian rock.

The postwar period ushered in a golden age (età d’oro) of papal air travel, as the pontiffs soared in fully reclining seats. And if His Holiness needed another pillow or more biscotti, he would press the flight attendant call button. And the Alitalia attendant said: Let there be biscotti!

Some Popes seemed to spend more time at altitude than on dry land. “Dov’è il papa? ”(“ Where is the Pope? ”) Asked a typical title during the reign of Pope John Paul II, a great traveler. The answer, generally, was, “Who the hell knows? ”(“ Chi diavolo lo sa? ”) Moscow? Buenos Aires? Havana ? Ibiza? Newark?

Like most Golden Ages, this did not last. Rising fuel costs, labor strikes, lost baggage, and popes who preferred pastorate through Zoom have all taken their toll, and the decision by Alitalia’s board of directors to resume making planes from marble. , although bold, turned out to be a misstep.

But for a while there, everything was fine. Some might even say, divine.

Christopher Buckley’s books include “Make Russia Great Again” and “Thank You for Smoking”. Her next novel is “Has Anyone Seen My Toes?”

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