The Holy See said a car driven by an apparently mentally ill person sped through the Vatican gate on Thursday night, past Swiss guards and into the courtyard of the palace before the driver was arrested by police.
The Vatican’s media office said in a statement late Thursday that Vatican gendarmes fired a bullet into the front tires of the speeding car after it smashed through the gate, but the car managed to continue on its way.
As soon as the car reached the Piazza San Damaso of the Apostolic Palace, the driver got out and was immediately arrested by the Vatican gendarmes. The Vatican said the driver was 40 years old and in a “severe state of psychosomatic alteration”. He was held in the Vatican barracks.
It was not clear whether Pope Francis was close to the incident, which took place just after 8 p.m. at the Santa Anna Gate, one of the main entrances to Vatican City in the heart of Rome.
Francis lives opposite the Vatican City in the Hotel Santa Marta, where he usually dines at that hour and retires to his room. As soon as the gendarmes raised the alarm about a raid, the Vatican statement said, the main gate blocking access to the square in front of the Francis Hotel was closed.
The incident was a rare incursion into the city-state, most of which are off limits to the general public, especially at night.
While visitors can access St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums during office hours, and those with a prescription can go to the Vatican Pharmacy, permission is required to enter the other buildings in the enclave.
The Apostolic Palace, which houses the papal apartments, main reception rooms, and the archives and offices of the Vatican, is guarded 24 hours a day by Swiss guards and gendarmes who man several checkpoints.
It is not the first time that someone with apparent mental health problems has caused a stir in the Vatican. During a mass on Christmas Eve 2009, a woman jumped over a parapet of St. Peter’s Basilica and attempted to attack Pope Benedict XVI. He was not injured, although a cardinal walking in the procession broke his hip during the scuffle.