About the Papal conclave (1899)

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The election and consecration of the Sovereign Pontiff by the College of Cardinals

The word “conclave” comes from the fact of closing the door with a key. “Clavis” in Latin means a key. The word conclave refers to the enclosure as well as to the body of Cardinals in session. All secular influence ceases for good, so as to leave the Cardinals untrammeled in their selection of a successor to St Peter.

This assembly of Cardinals is the most august assembly in the world, and is the only assembly that is known by the word conclave. In the veins of these Cardinals flows the purest and richest and noblest blood on earth. They are the sons of the old Romans, descended from the conquerors of the world, heirs of the Senators of old Rome who made and unmade nations.

The cells in which the Cardinals are to dwell during elections are twenty feet square and twenty feet high. The cells of the Cardinals who have been elected to office by the late Pope are decorated with violet tapestry, while the cells of the older Cardinals are covered with green or red. The cell is divided into two compartments, one for the Cardinal and the other for his secretary. A Cardinal of princely rank may have three cells and two secretaries for personal attendants.

When all are assembled within the windows and all entrances to the conclave conclave are closed. There is only one door to the conclave, and this is locked with a double key, one on the outside and one on the inside. The governor, who is a Cardinal appointed by the Sacred College, holds one key on the inside and the marshal, who is a lay official, on the outside, is the custodian of the other key.

There are four apertures in the walls, called gates, through which all their meals are passed and anything else that is absolutely required. All this is to avoid any communication with the outer world and to prevent fraud or political influence being used on the Cardinals in the casting of their votes. The outside halls are also locked and the Cardinal Camerlengo keeps these keys. Papal troops are drawn up in attendance and are in charge of one of the princes of the house of Chigi, who also takes charge of some of the outer keys and guards the conclave from violence.

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The most extraordinary precautions are taken to shut out intrigues and political influence. Each of the European nations naturally takes an interest in the election and zealously tries to have the election turn out to its own interest. All these precautions are necessary to withstand any pressure that might be brought to bear on the conclave and to allow the Cardinals to vote for him who seems best fit before God to spiritually govern 250,000,000 people.

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The whole building is searched to see there is no one there except those who have a right to be, and this search takes place twice every day. Even the food is searched for secret documents to see that it contains no letters or advices or matters prejudicial to the conscientious and just election of the Pontiff.

The elections begin at least ten days after the Pontiff’s death. If the foreign cardinals cannot arrive in Rome, either through sickness or old age or other indisposition, the election proceeds, and the College of Cardinals cannot wait any longer.

Should any Cardinal arrive after the ten days have elapsed he has a right to enter the conclave then in session. In the first session of the conclave each of cardinals takes a solemn oath on the Gospels to observe the canons that refer to the election in the conclave. The bulls of the nine Popes who legislated on the mode of procedure in the election of the Pope by ballot in the conclave are read aloud to them. The Fisherman’s Ring, being part of the Insignia of the Holy Father, is now unsealed by the master of ceremonies, and the first session of the conclave comes to a close. On the second day the” various officers of the Pontifical States come to pay their respects to Cardinals, and receive confirmation in their various offices, and the next three days are spent in elections to the different offices that are to be filled in the conclave.

On the sixth day, the cells that each Cardinal is to occupy are allotted to him, where both the Cardinal and his secretary are to dwell during the whole time of the conclave.

When the election takes place in Rome, it takes place either at the Quirinal or at the Vatican palace.


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