Back in the 13th century it took almost three years to install a new pope. After the death of Pope Clement IV, who died in 1268, church officials became involved in a bitter political struggle and many refused to vote. Finally, in effort to break the stalemate, the cardinals were fed only bread and water. The roof of the building they were staying in was removed. The desperate measures worked, because a new pope was soon elected.
When the Pope dies, the officials that were part of the papal administration no longer rule. The governing of the Vatican is taken over by the Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, or Chamberlain of the church. The camerlengo supervises all aspects of what goes on from the the death of the pope to the election of the next pope. His responsibilities include the papal funeral and preparations for the conclave.
Is that black smoke coming from the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican? One of the most famous traditions of the papal succession ritual is the appearance of smoke from the chimney of the conclave room. The eligible cardinals conduct a secret ballot until someone receives a vote of two-thirds plus one. The ballots are burned after each vote. Black smoke (straw is mixed with the ballots) indicates a failed ballot, white smoke means a new pope has been elected. Since the cardinals meet in isolation, it's the only way to inform the public about the proceedings.
- la biretta — a cap worn by Roman Catholic clergy
- il carmerlengo — chamberlain; cardinal who manages the pope's secular affairs
- ogni morte di papa — once in a blue moon
- i papabili — those seen as contenders to become pope
- la Curia Romana — the papal court, comprising judicial and administrative bodies
- la Santa Sede — the Holy See
- sede vacante — empty Holy See seat
- sfumata — thick smoke; black smoke indicating no successful election
- i vaticanisti — Vatican specialists
- lo zucchetto — papal skullcap