Monday, January 10, 2011

Papal Conclaves

I was walking home last evening after dinner with some friends and as I passed the manica lunga of the Quirinale palace it struck me that most people think that papal elections have always taken place in the Sistine Chapel when, in fact, the regular use of the Sistine for papal conclaves is rather recent. The 1800 conclave was held in the Benedictine abbey of San Giorgio in Venice due to the French occupation of Rome. The elections of 1823, 1829, 1831, and 1846 were all held in the Pauline Chapel of the Quirinale Palace, then the principal papal residence in Rome. (At the fall of the Papal States, Pius IX abandoned the Quirinale to take up residence at the Vatican and the Quirinale became the official residence of the Italian Kings and later, with the establishment of the Italian Republic, the Presidents of Italy.
While many of the popes of the sixteenth-through the eighteenth centuries had been elected in conclaves held in the Vatican Palace, the actual elections were not necessarily in the Sistine Chapel. The Pauline Chapel (The Capella Paolina) was also used for conclaves. I have also read that the small chapel frescoed by Fra Angelico, the Chapel of Nicholas V, was used at least for the 1464 and 1534 conclaves but I find this hard to believe as the chapel probably could not hold ten cardinals standing in their underwear much less even the small number of participants (15-25) typical in that period seated in their full regalia. Before the sixteenth century popes had been elected in the Dominican convent of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, in the Lateran, in Santa Maria Maggiore, in Santa Sabina, in Santa Maria in Cosmedin, San Pietro in Vincoli, San Gregorio Magno, San Marco, San Pancrazio, and a ramshackle palace on the Palatine called the Septizodium. In the High Middle Ages—the 12th, 13, and 14th centuries—when the papacy was notoriously peripatetic, conclaves had been held in Perugia, Viterbo, Naples, Agnani, Bologna, Ferrara, and Pisa. Some conclaves were even outside Italy—the Abbey of Cluny and in Lyon (both in France), along with Konstanz (in Switzerland) and of course Avignon where conclaves were held in 1334, 1342, 1352, 1362, and 1370.
Paul VI had residential facilities constructed for the Cardinals participating in future conclaves rather than the makeshift accommodations that had been arranged ever since the conclaves had been moved to the Vatican from the Quirinale in the conclave of 1878. He also had a potential voting hall incorporated in the Audience Hall which he had designed by Italian architect Pier Luigi Nervi, but in the interregnum after his death, the Cardinals decided that they would prefer to retain the Sistine Chapel as the place for elections.
The photo is the Quirinale Palace taken from the Castle San Angelo. From this perspective it bears an uncanny resemblance to the Potala

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