Palazzo della Rovere, also called Palazzo dei Penitenzieri. / Credit: Lalula via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Vatican City, Mar 14, 2023 / 12:12 pm (CNA).

A Catholic order of knighthood has signed a leasing agreement that will allow a Four Seasons hotel to manage part of a historic building close to the Vatican.

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem signed an agreement with Fort Partners, a Miami-based development company, on March 10, according to a statement published Tuesday.

The lease to Fort Partners includes an agreement to use that part of the building for a hotel under the management of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

The other part of the building houses the headquarters of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

The order is a lay institution under the protection of the Holy See whose first mention in historical records dates to 1336. Today, the charitable group has approximately 30,000 members in almost 40 countries and is dedicated to supporting the Church in the Holy Land.

The Renaissance-era Palazzo della Rovere is about a three-minute walk from St. Peter’s Basilica and features a turret, a grand courtyard, and frescoes by Pinturicchio on the main floor.

The order has been under pressure from the Italian state for years to renovate the decaying building.

A March 13 report from the Wall Street Journal said that Fort Partners had agreed to a 30-year lease and to invest 54 million euros ($57.5 million) into the restoration, which will be carried out under the direction of Italian architect Fabrizio Casiraghi.

The Wall Street Journal cited Fort Partners Chief Executive Nadim Ashi, who said the hotel will have between 55 and 60 rooms and a courtyard restaurant when it is completed.

Fort Partners expects the luxury project to be finished in 2025, in time for the Catholic Church’s Jubilee Year.

From 1952-2008, the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre leased part of their property to the historic Hotel Columbus, but the order entered into a lengthy legal battle with the hotel after it refused to vacate the premises after its lease ran out.

The hotel was forcefully evicted in 2018, three years after the Italian courts ruled in favor of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.

Starting in 2020, a commission was set up to review offers for the new lease and restoration of the building.

The order said in 2018 it had been under pressure to restore the building by the Special Department of Rome Archeology, Fine Arts, and Landscape.

“These urgent and necessary repairs will preserve the building and provide for necessary safety upgrades while also restoring the invaluable 15th- and 16th-century frescoes, which have been seriously damaged,” it said.

According to the order, Fort Partners will fully cover the costs of the renovation of the building, “allowing the order to donate in full to the Holy Land the voluntary contributions received from its members.”

The order says it followed “a strict transparency procedure” in choosing Fort Partners from among the “many offers” it received for the building.

The charitable organization was also authorized by the Vatican to negotiate with the development group.