All you wanted to know about the Papal Conclave

During a conclave, Catholic Church cardinals are confined in the Sistine chapel and in their quarters for all the duration of new pope’s election. They are not allowed any contact with the rest of the world.
Let’s take a look at some little-known details.


1. Conclave is an Italianization of the Latin words cum + clavis, literally meaning “with a key”, that is, “locked inside.”

2. Conclave is the oldest method of election in the world among the ones still in use.

3. Nowadays a Faraday cage is installed to shield mobile phone or Wi-Fi communication in and out. Failing in obeying the no-external-contact rule can result in excommunication.

4. Current electoral body for the election of a new pope–the College of Cardinals–was designated nearly 1000 years ago, in 1059.
Before that, popes could be elected by either the people, noble families, or any kind of then-powerful lobby. German emperors and Italian kings usually made a lot of pressure as to who should be elected.

5. Any baptized catholic could be theoretically elected pope. However, last election of a non-cardinal pope took place in 1378. Therefore, if you hoped of being the new pope and you’re not a cardinal, give up your hopes. It’s their business.

6. The longest election lasted three years, from 1268 to 1271, while the conclave was held in Viterbo, Latium. In 1269 the mob, tired after 19 months of insuccessful votes in order to push cardinals into a faster election of a new pope first locked them in, and then reduced food supplies. They were eventually so enraged that opened the roof of the palace in which they had previously locked cardinals.
After that, the locking-in custom was formalized into a law.

7. The first official conclave was held in 1276 in Arezzo, Tuscany.
The city was chosen since the old pope had suddenly died there.
Innocent V was the first pope elected in an official conclave.

8. Conclaves were always held in Rome since early 15th century, with one exception in the year 1800.

9. Cardinals who are 80 years old or older are not allowed to the conclave.

10. A very limited number of non-voting individuals are admitted to the conclave, as doctors and nurses, a few servants, Dean and Master’s assistants and priests for confessions. All of these are not allowed in the chapel during vote. Scrutiny of the votes is performed by cardinals themselves.

11. The cardinals vote once on the first day (after the famous “extra omnes”) and then twice each morning and twice each afternoon. Ballots are burnt only once at midday and once in the evening.

12. Cardinals cast their ballots in front of the Holy Judgment fresco by Michelangelo, in the Sistine Chapel. Probably the most beautiful polling station in the world. Hard to beat.

13. Votes proceed until a two-thirds majority on one name is reached. During the last 100 years, no conclave required more than 14 votes, for a maximum duration of 5 days.

14. The white and black smokes signaling successful or unsuccessful election was generated by wet straw or pitch mixed to the ballots. Nowadays chemicals are used. The chimney from which smoke comes out is mounted only for the conclave.

15. When a name reaches two-thirds, the designated person can theoretically refuse election. However, it is common practice to declare in advance one’s unwillingness to become pope when their name ended up ranking high in a previous poll.

16. The room where the new pope is accompanied to be dressed up is called the room of tears, as reportedly new popes often cry while thinking of the new burden on their shoulders.



Remarkable roles connected to Papal Conclave

The Cardinal Dean is the president of the college of the cardinals. He is the one who asks the newly-elected pope if he accepts the “post”.
If he–for any reason–is not able to do so (for instance because he’s the one elected pope, as it happened with Ratzinger) then the sub-dean asks the question.
Current Cardinal Dean is Angelo Sodano. He is not allowed to participate to the conclave due to his age (85).

The Camerlengo is Catholic Church’s regent during pope’s vacancy and is also the one who officially declares old pope’s death.
Current Camerlengo is Tarcisio Bertone.

The Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations is the person who shouts out the famous “extra omnes!” with which he requests everybody not admitted to the conclave to leave the Sistine Chapel immediately. That phrase marks the beginning of the conclave.
Guido Marini is the current master of celebrations. He is only 48 and isn’t a cardinal.

The Cardinal Protodeacon is the person who appears on the balcony in front of the crowd to announce a “gaudium magnum” (a great joy), as the election of a new pope was successful, and also introduces him to the world.
Current Protodeacon is Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran.

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