Search for books by and about Pope John Paul II






Selecting the Pope: Uncovering the Mysteries of Papal Elections, by Msgr. Robert J. Wister



Behind Locked Doors: A History of the Papal Elections, by Frederic J. Baumgartner



Conclave: The Politics, Personalities, and Process of the Next Papal Election, by John L. Allen, Jr.



The Conclave: A Secret and Sometimes Bloody History of Papal Elections, by Michael Walsh



Papal Elections in the Age of Transition, 1878-1922, by Francis A. Burkle-Young




Depositing votes in the chalice
At each scrutiny the Cardinals approach the altar in turn and deposit their sealed voting papers in a large chalice.

The next business is to count the votes. The chalice is shaken to mix the papers, which are then counted into a second chalice, in order to see if they correspond in number with the Cardinals present. If they do not, they are burnt, and a fresh vote taken.

Each voting paper is taken from the chalice by the first scrutineer, who looks at the name voted for and hands the paper to the second scrutiner, who, after looking at it, gives it to the third, who reads the name aloud. All the Cardinals then make a mark against that name on their lists.

When all the votes have been read out, the papers are pierced and threaded on a string. If no one has obtained the necessary two-thirds majority, a second vote is taken, which is known as that of Accession. This is done in order that, if any candidate has received a large number of votes, any Cardinals who please may transfer their votes to him, and so bring about an election without further delay. No one can vote again for the same person, but each is obliged to hand in a voting paper, though he need not insert anyone's name in it.

The votes thus acceded are now added to those previously given, and if no candidate has secured the necessary majority, the papers are mixed with some damp straw and burnt in a small stove, placed in the chapel for this purpose. The appearance of smoke from the flue is the signal to the people outside that the Pope is not yet elected.

When, either by Scrutiny or Accession, it appears that someone has received a two-thirds majority of the votes, the papers are re-counted, and in various ways examined to see that everything is in order. Should the majority be exactly two-thirds of the total votes recorded, the papers are opened and the names of those voting in the majority examined, in order to make sure that the elected Cardinal did not vote for himself.

If all is proved correct, three Cardinals are chosen by lot to act as revisers, and these re-count and check the voting papers. When they certify that the Pope is elected, the papers are burnt, but without any damp straw.

The Secretary of the Conclave and the Master of Ceremonies are now summoned, and the Dean proceeds with them to the throne of the newly elected Pope, and asks if he is willing to accept the office. Should he consent, the canopies over all the thrones but his own are at once lowered, in token that the temporary joint sovereignty of the Sacred College is at an end.

The new Pope now proceeds to the altar and, after spending a short time in prayer, is conducted to a vestry, where he assumes the usual papal dress, after which he returns to the altar and receives the homage of the Cardinals. This is sometimes known as the "adoration," and the absurd notion has gone abroad that divine worship is paid to the Pope. It need hardly be added that this is utterly untrue.

Later, the election is announced from the balcony of St. Peter's by the Senior Cardinal Deacon, and the new Pope's first public act is to give the Apostolic Benediction to the city and the world from the loggia of the cathedral.

Exterior View of the Vatican

An exterior view of the Vatican at Rome, the official residence of the Pope.

NOTE TO THE READER: This article appeared in the June, 1903, issue of the British publication "The London Magazine," and is reproduced here for its view into the traditional way in which the election of a Pope was held. There have been some changes in the way Papal elections work since that time. However, the functional and ceremonial aspects of the process remain impressive.

The election of 1903 resulted in the Papacy of Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, Bishop and Cardinal-Patriarch of Venice. He became Pope Pius X, died in 1914 and was canonized in 1954. Discussion of his reign is beyond the scope of this piece, but judicious Web searching will turn up a great deal of information.

For a discussion of the (external) politics of the Papal election of 1903, in particular the so-called "right of exclusion" (a secular power of veto over a choice, in this case Austria's veto of Cardinal Rampolla in the 1903 election) see the online Catholic Encyclopedia.

Illustrations from this article are used, with our compliments, in the Wikipedia article on Papal Elections. Wikipedia has an extensive article on the 2005 Conclave electing a successor to Pope John Paul II.

A number of other sites have taken the illustrations from Wikipedia and are using them without bothering to ask, or even to notify us. Their karma suffers for it.

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