The period between popes is known as "interregnum". Now that the See of Peter is vacant (sede vacante) the Cardinals will come together in conclave to elect a successor to Benedict XVI. Having the Cardinals go into seclusion to elect a pope started somewhere in the 12 th or 13 th century. Prior to that the clergy of the Diocese of Rome would elect a pope (since he is the Bishop of Rome) and later the Roman Pontiff was elected by the few Cardinals there were as they were attached to the Church in Rome or the dioceses surrounding Rome. Eventually Cardinals outside of Rome were also appointed. Then with the rise of the nation-state and as the influence of the Popes spread, civil rulers and the people at large insisted on a speedy papal election. Since there were only handfuls of Cardinals who were often evenly split at least by country and the rule requires a two-thirds majority, conclaves could often go on for months and sometimes years. At times and at the insistence of civil rulers the Cardinals would often be locked in under Imperial guards and fed bread and water in order to speed up the process. In the case of one Conclave that was taking too long the people took the roof off the place where the Cardinals were staying as a hint to move things along. Ah, the good old days!
This current Conclave unfortunately won't have the dire theatrics of a medieval conclave. But maybe a surprise candidate will emerge. Remember the new pope does not have to be from the College of Cardinals (possible but not probable). So here are a few historical facts put together by Ambrogio Piazzoni, vice prefect of the Vatican Library and author of a book on the history of papal elections:
-- The last pope who was not a Cardinal yet when elected was Pope Urban VI in 1378.
-- The last who was not even a priest yet was Pope Leo X.
-- The last born in Rome was Pope Pius XII, elected in 1939. (He was also the last serving Vatican Secretary of State elected.)
-- The last African was Pope Gelasius, elected in 492.
-- The last native of Dalmatia, an ancient Roman province, was Pope John IV in 640.
-- The last Frenchman elected was Pope Gregory XI, in 1370.
-- The last Greek was Pope Zachary in 741.
-- The last Englishman was Pope Adrian IV in 1154.
-- The last Italian was Pope John Paul I.
-- The last Dutchman was Pope Adrian VI in 1522.
-- The last Palestinian was Pope Theodore in 642.
-- The last Pole was Pope John Paul II in 1978.
-- The last Portuguese was Pope John XXI in 1276.
-- The last Syrian was Pope Gregory III in 731.
-- The last Spaniard was Pope Alexander VI in 1492.
-- The last German was Pope Benedict XVI, elected in 2005. It had been 950 years since a German - Pope Victor II -- had been elected.
So hopefully soon we will see the white smoke and the senior Cardinal Deacon will step on the balcony of St. Peters and declare: Habemus Papam!
Love, Fr. John B.BACK TO LIST