Pontificalis Aula

De Conclavi seu de electione Romani Pontificis

Cardinals dressed in a cappa magna participated in the Mass of the Holy Spirit, celebrated before the beginning of the conclave. After the mass, from a special stand, covered with red damask, set on the Gospel side, De eligendo Pontifice was read; it was the prayer which reminded cardinals of the relevance of the duty resting on them – to elect a new pope.

Card. Tisserant, the Dean of the College of Cardinals during a pontifical Mass before the conclave in 1939. The Mass was celebrated on the Altar of the Chair of St. Peter.

After the Mass the College of Cardinals gathered in the appointed place where the instructions concerning the election of the new Holy Father were read. After adoration of the Blessed Sacrament there was a procession to the chapel where the conclave was held.

Sacred College of Cardinals
In the picture: the College of Cardinals in the Pauline Chapel during reading the instructions.

The last Master of Ceremonies, dressed in a mantelletta, carried the papal cross which was flanked by two porters (Magistri Ostiarii a Virga Rubea). After the cross followed cardinals in order of precedence. They were dressed in a cappa magna, and accompanied by the caudatarii, in cassocks and black ferraiolos, by two conclavists: one dressed as a train-bearers, the latter in a black cassock and a ferraiolo in the same colour, and by servants in gala-livery. In the procession participated also cardinals’ familiares and a choir singing Veni Creator Spiritus. The cardinals were followed by prelates fulfilling certain functions during the conclave. The procession was surrounded by a double cordon of the Noble Guard  and the Pontifical Swiss Guard.

Rome Celebration of a Special Mass
In the photo there is the procession beginning the conclave in 1939. The cardinals are wearing, unfortunately, the simple choir dress.

Having reached the place of the conclave, the Cardinal Dean, standing in front of the altar, said the prayer Deus, qui corda fidelium. Next, the legal regulations of the conclave were read. Subsequently, the cardinals took the oath: they swore by the Gospel, saying: Et Ego N. Cardinalis N. spondeo, voveo, ac iuro, they put their hand on the Gospel, adding: Sic me Deus adiuvet et haec Sancta Dei Evangelia. Subsequently, The Dean of the College told cardinals a few words of encouragement; afterwards, the electors went to their cells. Once, Princes of the Church had lived in cells built of boards in the Apostolic Palace or on the Quirinal Hill, depending on the place where the conclave had been held. The cells, just as today, had been selected randomly. Later on, cardinals were placed in palace rooms divided by temporary walls.

Przygotowywanie celi w Apartamentach Borgiów przed konklawe w 1939 r.
The preparation of a cell in the Borgia Apartments before the conclave of 1939.

In the meantime, conclavists took an oath, and cardinals changed their robes and received visitors. The last Master of Ceremonies, dressed in a zimarra, walked around the enclosure three times, letting everybody know with a bell that it is the time to close the conclave. At the third time he also called Extra omnes and all non-conclavists left the enclosure. Subsequently, cardinal camerlengo and the three eldest cardinals of every class (bishops, priests and deacons) with the first Master of Ceremonies checked the cells of cardinals and closed the conclave from the inside. At the same time the conclave was closed also from the outside.

Papal sacristan, bishop van Lierde, with a few of conclavists, is taking the oath, kneeling in the presence of the Secretary of the Conclave, msgr. di Jorio. Next to the secretary monsignore Dante is standing. Year 1958.

All doors and windows were walled or boarded up, except one which was locked with four locks: the Marshal of the Conclave, which title was hereditary and was vested in the family Chigi, had the keys for the two locks on the outside, and the keys for the locks on the inside were in the possession of the first Master of Ceremonies and the cardinal camerlengo. Food and other necessary things were delivered with the aid of a small revolving door (similar to that of  the enclosed religious orders). The access to the conclave was guarded by various dignitaries of the court: from patriarchs, archbishops and bishops Assistants at the Papal Throne, apostolic protonotaries, prelates of the Rota and the Signatura to the clerici of the Apostolic Camera.

Supplying food to cardinals closed in a conclave.

A day at a conclave began early in the morning when the last Master of Ceremonies walked around the enclosure, calling the cardinals with a bell to prepare themselves to leave. At the third time he also called In Capellam, Domini. During the first day cardinals in the choir dress (in a rochet or a surplice in the case of the religious cardinals, a mozzetta and, till the second half of the XIX century, a crocea) with both their conclavists participated in a Holy Mass celebrated by the Dean of the College in the Pauline Chapel. Receiving Communion, cardinals took off the crocea and received a white stole from a Master of Ceremonies; the cardinals who were ordinated priests put it on the neck in a usual way, whereas the cardinal deacons hung it over the shoulder.

The crocea (croccia lub cucullum): it was a violet (or, in the case of religious cardinals, in the colour of the habit), woollen coat with a train, open on the front, without sleeves. It was worn on a rochet and a mozzetta. The use of the crocea was abandoned during the conclave of the year 1878.

On other days the cardinals celebrated mass alone. Those who were not able to do it participated in the mass celebrated by a papal sacristan, whom served two Masters of Ceremonies, and two conclavists held torches during the Canon of Mass. During the Mass the celebrant, through Masters of Ceremonies, gave pax to the three eldest cardinals of every class who gave pax to their colleagues of the same class. After the Mass all returned to their cells to eat breakfast. Later on, the cardinals went to the Sistine Chapel, already without the rochet, in order to vote. Conclavists holding paper, pen, seal etc. accompanied them.

The Swiss Guard is hanging the Prince Chigi’s banner, which symbolised the Marshal of the Conclave’s responsibility for Vatican during the conclave.

The floor in the presbytery of the Sistine Chapel was covered with green cloth. A portable altar stood under a purple baldachin. Under the baldachin there was a tapestry depicting the Pentecost. On the altar there was a cross and six candlesticks with candles lit during the mass and the voting. On the Gospel side of the altar papal cross and throne were set; on that throne the elected pope was paid the homage.

Sistine Chapel – the view on the high altar.

Along the walls of the chapel there were places for cardinals: each of them with a violet (for the cardinals nominated by the deceased pope) or green (for cardinals nominated by his predecessor) baldaquin. The throne was decorated with the coat of arms of the cardinal, and in front of each there was a table decorated with cloth in the same colour as the baldaquin. Cardinals sat in the following order: the Cardinal Dean sat on the Gospel side, closest to the altar; next to him, in order of precedence, there were cardinal bishops, cardinal priests and cardinal deacons. The youngest cardinal deacon sat closest to the altar on the Epistle side.

Sistine Chapel – the view on the exit. In the left corner of the picture one can see the steps of the high altar in front of which a movable altar was placed.

In the middle of the presbytery there were tables covered with cloth with stools for the cardinals who arrived later and for those who, for fear of their neighbours who could peep at their ballot paper, preferred to complete their card there. In front of the altar there was a big table covered with red serge on which there were items necessary for voting.

Table at which sat scrutineers, with items used for voting and counting ballot papers.

After the procession entered the chapel the first Master of Ceremonies read the instruction of the closing of the enclosure. Next, bishop sacristan, wearing a cotta and a stole, intoned Veni Creator Spiritus and, after the chant, a prayer was read. Everyone, except the electors, left the chapel and one of the cardinals locked the door with a bolt. After voting the Dean rang a bell and all stood up. One of the cardinals rang a bell near the door and the chapel was opened. After dinner last Master of Ceremonies once again called all cardinals to the chapel, in the same way as it was previously described, and the evening voting began, also preceded by the hymn to the Holy Spirit.

The papalotto, called by Italians Totopapa. In the picture the bets of 1958. Please, pay attention that even then there were bets on card. Montini, who was not even a cardinal, and who actually obtained some votes during the conclave.

After voting cardinals returned to their cells, took off the crocea and the biretta, and donned a hat. They spent their free time strolling and visiting one another in cells. During the meetings they drank coffee, chocolate or lemonade. Each evening also the eldest cardinal bishop, cardinal priest and cardinal deacon met: on the first day they, among others, swore in the persons, who didn’t take the oath earlier e.g. doctors, bricklayers, confessors etc. The day in a conclave ended with a triple sound of the bell of the last Master of Ceremonies who walked around the enclosure three times; when he was walking around the enclosure for the third time he was calling In cellam, Domini.

A papal gendarme on watch during the conclave in 1958.

Once there were many ways to elect a new pope, but only one has survived to modern times: by scrutinium, or a secret voting. The first of former possibilities was inspiration (per inspirationem), called also acclamation or adoration, when all cardinals, participating in the conclave, unanimously appointed the candidate for the See of St. Peter. The second way was called per compromissum and was used when cardinals could not reach the agreement and none of the candidates had any chance to obtain the required number of votes. Then the electors chose  three, five or seven cardinals to whom they entrusted the election of the pope, solemnly vowing to accept their decision. The third and the most frequently used way was per scrutinium, formerly combined with the possibility of accession. This form of voting is the most intricate one and thus divided into three parts: antescrutinium, scrutinium and postscrutinium

Some items used during voting.


The first act of the antescrutinium was the preparation of ballot papers and cards for the accession which were similar to those first. The ballot papers should be completed using a different handwriting in order to prevent anyone from guessing who completed it. On the top the elector wrote his first and last name, in the middle the name of the candidate (in the case of waiving the accession Nemini was written), whereas at the bottom an Arabic numeral together with the chosen Latin motto which were used for a possible inspection of the validity of the voting. Such a card was folded along the lines and sealed with wax in four places in this way:
A folded and sealed ballot paper, yet without the candidate’s name.
The second part of the antescrutinium was the appointment of nine cardinals: three scrutineers, three infirmarii and three revisors. The first group read the ballot papers, the second took votes from sick electors and the last supervised the voting. The drawing was conducted by the youngest cardinal deacon who took out wooden balls with the names of the cardinals on them from a purple damask pouch. Next, the ballot papers were completed, folded and sealed.
Po lewej fioletowy woreczek z kulkami, po środku zaś przedmiot, który dawniej był w jakiś sposób wykorzystywany przy losowaniu, ale nie wiemy jak :)
On the left the purple pouch with balls, in the middle an item formerly used somehow in voting, but we do not know how :)
The very act of voting looked as follows: The cardinals, in order of precedence, approached to the altar, holding in their raised hand, between the thumb and the forefinger the folded card. On the altar stone there was a big chalice covered with a paten. An elector kneeled down before the altar to pray for a moment; having risen to his knees, he read aloud the words of the oath written on a board, lying on the altar: Testor Christum Dominum qui me judicaturus est me eligere quem secundum Deum judice eligi debere et quod idem in accessu præstabo. Afterwards, he put his vote on the paten and tilted it in such a way to place the card in the chalice. Afterwards, the cardinal gave reverence to the Cross and returned to his place. The votes of the electors who could not approach the altar unassisted were collected by the last scrutineer, after they had taken the oath, remaining in their places. The ballot papers of cardinals who stayed in their cells were brought by three infirmarii in a casket locked with a key which, in that time, laid on the altar. In a cell, the elector, or a clerical conclavist substituting for him, completed the ballot paper which he afterwards threw into the casket. After returning to the chapel the scrutineers opened the casket, checked whether the number of cards tallied with the number of the sick cardinals, and subsequently put them in the chalice.
Kielich i patena używane w czasie głosowania.
The chalice and the paten used in voting.
When all ballots papers were placed in the chalice the first scrutineer shook it in order to mix them. Next, it was checked if the number of ballot papers matches the number of electors. For this purpose the third scrutineer brought the chalice to the table in front of the altar; one by one the cards were put from the first to the second chalice. In the case of a discrepancy the votes were burned straightaway, and the voting was repeated. Reading the names proceeded, as follows: two scrutineers in turn unfolded a card and read the name of the candidate in a low voice; the third scrutineer did it aloud. At the same time cardinals marked the votes next to the read name on their own cards. Having read all the names, the third scrutineer strung the scards on red thread, piercing them with the needle in the place of the letter “o” in the word Eligo; afterwards, he tied the ends of the thread.
Między kielichami stoi pudełko ze szpulkami na nici, w którym trzymano też czerwone poduszki z igłami. Po prawej stoi kasetka, do której zbierano głosy chorych kardynałów.
Between the chalices there is the box for spools of thread in which also small red pads with needles were kept. On the right there is the casket in which the votes of the sick cardinals were collected.
In the case when none of the cardinals obtained the required majority the second voting, per accessum, took place. It proceeded similarly to the scrutinium but on the ballot papers one wrote the name of the cardinal whom he wanted to give his vote. If one of the electors waived this possibility, he wrote the word Nemini in the appropriate place. The votes could be given only to a cardinal who obtained at least one vote and for whom one had not voted yet. Cheating was avoided by checking the motto and the number of the vote which were written earlier, during the scrutinium. Next, the votes of the scrutinium and the accessus were counted and it was ascertained whether the canonical election of the pope took place. Regardless of the effect, the ballot papers were burned by revisors right after their verification: they were mixed with damp straw if the electors had not choose the pope, or without, if the new pope had been elected. In times when the accession was conducted in an oral form each of the cardinals said a proper formula aloud; the one who had the casting vote said: Et ego accedo ad Reverendissimum Dominum meum talem, et facio eum Papam. Being able to say this – it was a pompon! :)
Items used during a conclave: the one on the left seems to have been used for burning the ballot papers before a special stove with a chimney exiting outside of the chapel was installed. The trays with balls were used for drawing cells for cardinals.
After the confirmation of the canonical election of the pope, on the voice of a bell the first two Masters of Ceremonies, a sacristan and the secretary of the College entered the chapel. The cardinal camerlengo and the three eldest cardinals of every class joined them. They all approached the chosen cardinal and the Dean of the College asked him: Acceptasne electionem de te canonice factam in Summum Pontificem? When he accepted the election all cardinals, using a string, lowered the baldachins which were above their chairs; in that way the only baldaquin raised was that above the place of the new pope. At the same time the cardinals standing on both sides of the Pope left their places. Then, the Dean asked the Pope which name he had chosen: Quomodo vis vocari? Afterwards, the first Master of Ceremonies, as well as the protonotary and the notary of the Holy See, with the second Master of Ceremonies, a sacristan and the Secretary of the College signed the official act of the Holy Father’s election (Rogito).
On the right side one can see the raised baldachin of the cardinal elected for the Pope; in front of the altar there is the throne used during the homage.

After a short prayer in front of the altar the Pope, accompanied by the first two cardinal deacons, the chamberlain, a sacristan and the Secretary of the Conclave, went to the sacristy where, in the company of two conclavists called earlier, dressed in the full papal choir dress, the look of which depended on the period. The papal stole was put on the dress by the Protodeacon. Having returned to the chapel, the Pope sat on the throne set before the altar, having on both sides the first two cardinal deacons. Then, he was paid the first, non-public, homage. Each cardinal in a crocea with its train spread (later in the simple choir dress) kissed the Pope’s foot and palm; the Pope returned the kiss of peace twice. The cardinal camerlengo, having given reverence to the Pope, presented the Ring of the Fisherman to him. The Pope wore it for a moment and gave it back to the first Master of Ceremonies, who carried it to the person who were to engrave the Pope’s name on it.

In front of the door of a conclave: prelates already without the mourning dress.

After the homage was paid by the first two cardinal deacons, leaving the task of accompanying the Pope to another two cardinals of their class, left the chapel and, preceded by a Master of Ceremonies with the papal cross, went to the balcony of the basilica. The cardinal protodeacon, having the Master of Ceremonies with the cross on one side and the second cardinal on the other, read the formula of the election of the new pope, written on a card which he subsequently threw to the jubilant crowds. Over the years the content of the announcement was altered a little: formerly, to the words we know, the rank of the elected cardinal and his titular church had been added: Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Papam habemus! Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum N., Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae episcopum/presbyterum/diaconum tituli N. Cardinalem N., qui sibi nomen imposuit N.

Rok 1903: dzień wyboru Ojca Świętego Piusa X.
1903: the day of the election of Pius X
After the homage the door of the chapel was opened and all persons involved in the conclave, and many other personages, were called in order to pay homage to the Pope by kissing his foot. Next, the Pope gave his first Urbi et Orbi blessing from the balcony of the basilica. The first, aforementioned, homage was called a private one; it was followed by two – semi-public and public. The first one was held in the Sistine Chapel: the Pope received it sitting on a sedia gestatoria in a mantum and a mitre, whereas cardinals were dressed in a cappa magna (appropriate for the period, but always scarlet, unless it was worn by a religious cardinal) with its train spread which was raised by the caudatarii not until the homage was paid. The third one, in a similar way, was held in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The second homage paid to Pope Paul VI. On the right side one can see two cardinals distinguishing themselves from the rest: a Dominican and a Franciscan.

[English translation by Marek S.]