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Archive for May, 2014

March 2013 saw the election of a new Pope after Benedict XVI decided to resign. Or renounce. Or step down… Or something… 🙂 It all seems a bit confusing, doesn’t it? So in response I decided to have some fun and write about how a new Pope is elected. Now if you are thinking that I am one of those journalists who is going to reveal some juicy gossip about the process, you will likely be disappointed. What I want to do instead is look at some trivia and other interesting facts about the process (the “conclave”) in which the cardinals from around the world assemble in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel to elect the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church. I hope you enjoy this look inside the Church, and although I originally wrote this in March 2013, only a few days after the new Pope (Francis) was elected, I do plan to revise from time to time in future as I find more interesting facts about the subject that I want to share with all of you. The latest revision was published in May 2014. I ask your prayers for Pope Francis and for the heavy burdens of leadership which he carries. May God bless him today and always.

The term conclave comes from the Latin phrase “cum clave” (meaning “with a key”) and have been held since 1059. Before that, the leading families of the region gathered to elect the Bishop of Rome (one of the titles held by the Pope).

The longest conclave appears to be the one which elected Gregory X in 1268. It lasted almost three years – 33 months, to be exact. Another interesting aspect to that one is that the residents of Viterbo (the town north of Rome where the election was taking place) tore the roof off the building and also decided to go on a bread-and-water diet to help speed up the process.

The new Pope must have taken note of this – at the Council of Lyons in 1274 Gregory issued a decree from which many of the rules governing a conclave are still in use today. We noted above that the “conclave” came from the Latin phrase “with a key” – this referred to Gregory’s decree that the cardinals be locked in seclusion at the voting location and not permitted to exit until a new Pope was elected. He also decreed that if a conclave lasted longer than three days, the cardinals would only have one meal a day. And would be served bread, water and wine if they were still voting after eight days.

It also appears that the “ten day” waiting period following the death (or in Benedict XVI’s case, retirement/resignation), also dates to 1274 and while I was not able to determine this for sure, it is quite likely that this was also part of Gregory’s decree noted above. Prior to that time, it was common practice for the new Pope to be chosen within hours of his predecessors’s death. But the ten day period gave time for all the cardinals to arrive in Rome.

The idea of choosing a new Pope within a few hours didn’t die with the institution of the ten day waiting period. As noted on one of the Web sites I checked in researching this blog entry, the 1503 election of Julius II seems to have lasted only a few hours, according to Vatican historian Ambrogio Piazzoni.

Shortest reign was Urban VI – he was elected in 1378 and was the last time that the Pope was not a cardinal. He was a monk and also the archbishop of Bari. Longest was St. Peter himself (35 years).

Pope Pius XII held the office during World War II, and left a document informing the College of Cardinals that if he was taken prisoner they should hold a conclave and elect a new pope.

The youngest Pope elected was John XII, who was just 18 when he was elected in 955. On the flip side, the oldest were Pope Celestine III (elected in 1191) and Celestine V (elected in 1294) who were both nearly 85. As an aside, Benedict XVI was 78 when he was elected in 2005, but by an interesting coincidence was 85 when he decided to retire. Leo XIII was the oldest living Pope. Elected to succeed Pius IX in 1878, he died in 1903 at the age of 93.

The first conclave held in the Sistine Chapel was the 1492 one which elected Alexander VI. All conclaves have taken place there since 1878.

One man became Pope by murdering his predecessor. Another was chosen not because he was a cardinal or a bishop, but because a dove landed on his shoulder. A dove is one of the symbols associated with the Holy Spirit, so that was interpreted as a sign that God was choosing that person.

The March 2013 conclave was the first one held during Lent since 1829.

Thanks for reading this blog entry. As I noted back at the beginning, I will keep revising this from time to time in future as I learn more facts about papal conclaves that I feel would be of interest to all of you. As with all my other blog entries, feel free to share this article with anyone you wish. Have a wonderful day, until next time!

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