It is perhaps the world's most exclusive duty-free shop. Hidden inside the walls of the Vatican City, accessible only to those with a special pass, sits a little-known department store offering luxury goods to prelates and their staff, reports The Times/The Australian.
The three-storey emporium, known as the magazzino, occupies what was once the Vatican's magnificent railway station. The seldom-used track still runs outside.
Inside, Vatican employees - and no one else - can stock up on tax-free Salvatore Ferragamo handbags, Chanel perfume, and Swarovski jewellery. There is a special corner for English-made Church's shoes.
Despite Pope Francis's call for a 'poor church for the poor,' the store sells a Sony home theatre worth thousands of dollars. Lacy underwear is also on sale, although surely not for nuns.
The magazzino is one of the many quirks of everyday life inside the world's smallest city state. Although the Church tends to over one billion people, Vatican City covers just 45 ha, making it a quarter the size of the next smallest state, Monaco.
Having shunned the lavish Borgia Papal apartment, Francis now lives in a three-room suite in the city-state's St Martha's guesthouse, where he gives a private Mass each morning and eats in the canteen.
The city-state has many of the attributes of a normal country, with its own mini fire brigade, petrol stations, health service, post office and car number plates. Every morning, up to 5000 staff arrive to work in its gardens and offices. As well as the magazzino store, Vatican employees have their own supermarket in the shadow of the Sistine Chapel. Known as the annona - an abbreviation of spaccio annonario, or ration outlet - it puts Sainsbury's to shame, boasting an extensive wine section and its own butcher and fishmonger.
Nothing is taxed because the Vatican is not part of Italy or the EU. There would be no point in the Church levying a sales tax, because all the profit goes to the Vatican anyway.
There is only one way for an outsider to enter the Vatican unless escorted by an official: that is to visit the pharmacy. Because of its independence, the Vatican pharmacy stocks drugs that are not yet available in surrounding Italy. Anyone with a prescription can go the Sant'Anna Gate and walk 100 metres to the chemist.
In the new era of the "Poor Church", there is a growing debate about whether the Vatican should still sell luxury goods. Francis has said that he feels ill when he sees a priest driving the latest car.
Photo: A nun window shops for the latest haute clerical clothes in the Vatican City, Rome