Some facts about Papal Conclaves

Image of St Peters in Roma taken from BBC website

Image of St Peters in Roma taken from BBC website

As the world looks to Rome to see who will succeed Pope Benedict here are some interesting facts about the process.


Conclave as we know it today started in 1268. This is because after the death of Clement IV died in 1265 the cardinals could not decide who to elect pope. So they were locked in. The translation of the word Conclave is “with keys”.


The cardinals are banned from the outside world even today in its multi media era. If a cardinal breaks these rules he faces Excommunication. The Vatican is said to take this so seriously that they apparently sweep the Vatican for bugging devices. (Dan Brown could not make that up!!)


Until 2005 the cardinal in conclave were each issued with chamber pots for the call of nature during the votes. They now have porta loos installed in the Sistine chapel.


The actual votes are hand written, each cardinal disguises his hand writing then brings his vote to the alter. When all votes have been collected they are checked by 3 cardinals before they are sewn together and burnt. Black smoke means that No pope has been elected while white smoke means there is a new leader of the Catholic Church. As the smoke is not always clear when it is white there is also a peal of bells in St Peter’s to confirm that there is a new Pope.


The Vatican has Papal robes in Small Medium & Large for the successor to change into, before heading to the balcony. Traditionally the papal colour was red however the 16th century pope, Pius V, was a Dominican and he wished to keep his white robes. This continued by his successor. The only red parts of the papal robes are his shoes, mozzetta & capelet.


The room where the new Holy Father changes is known as the Room of Tears. It must be very emotional to be elected Pope especially in trying periods of history such as now when there is scandal and in fighting.


Lastly the outcome of the papal vote is the biggest non sporting event that is bet on world wide!

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