Earthly Riches Abound at Vatican's Duty-Free Store

Opulent, little-known department store sits behind St. Peter's Basilica

By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 23, 2012 8:39 AM CST

(Newser) – Money might not buy you a ticket to heaven, but at the Vatican's duty-free store, $3,840 can buy a 65-inch Samsung TV for that devout Christian on your list who has everything. The AP takes a look at the little-known three-story commercial haven that sits mere steps away from the spiritual one in St. Peter's Basilica, inside the Vatican's former train station. The sprawling store offers up everything from electronics and high-end luggage to Gordon's Gin and Cuban cigars—and because the Vatican is a sovereign state, the store dodges Italy's 21% sales tax.

The store is a bonafide source of revenue to an increasingly austere Roman Catholic Church, and was engineered by a since-retired American cardinal who cracked down on the Vatican's finances. "Naturally, we expected a profit, but that was not the primary motivation," he says. But hold on to your credit card: The store is open only to the Vatican's citizens, employees, and diplomats—or those lucky enough to know someone who is. "More than the prices, it's the material," said a Roman shopping recently for a coat, Vatican-connected friend in tow, adding, "This one I don't like—I look like a priest."

This is a 1962 photo showing train carriages inside St. Peter's train station in the Vatican, which today houses a sprawling tax-free department store.
This is a 1962 photo showing train carriages inside St. Peter's train station in the Vatican, which today houses a sprawling tax-free department store.   (AP Photo)
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