Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus Papam.
I announce to you a great joy: we have a Pope.

- the Protodeacon cardinal, from St. Peter's Basilica in Rome

Some fun facts about this historical event:

  • The word "conclave", the meeting of Cardinals to elect a new pope, comes from the latin "cum clave" (with a key): the cardinals were locked in a room until the election was over.

  • The first conclave, held in Viterbo in 1268, was also the longest, lasting thirty-three months and a day. Tired of the deadlock, the people of Viterbo introduced the custom of locking the voting room, and later removed the roof, exposing the bickering Cardinals to rain and wind.

  • Once the Cardinals have decided, the Protodeacon Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez will announce coram populo: "Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum, habemus Papam, Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum, Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem (insert your name here), qui sibi nomen imposuit (insert your E2 alias here)".

  • Historically, used ballots were burned in a stove to produce the white puffs of smoke ("fumata bianca") that signal the end of the election. The ballots were mixed with wet straw to give off black smoke ("fumata nera") if there was no agreement.

  • Recently they installed an "auxiliary smoke generator" next to the old stove, to enhance the color of the smoke. The flues of these two stoves are joined, connected to a fan and to an electric heater, to improve the flue pull. These contraptions are activated shortly before the ballots are burned.

  • A few days before the conclave begins, a worker climbs to the roof of the Sistine chapel to install the chimney. In 2005 a yellow smoke signal was used to test the system. (No, yellow smoke doesn't mean that we have a new pope, and she is black.)

  • To avoid any further misunderstanding, St.Peter's bells will toll along with the fumata bianca.

Sometimes I wonder - don't these people have e-mail?

Update: I've seen the newscast, and despite all the high-tech apparatus, the smoke appears uniformly gray, causing many false alarms. One of the fumate happened while the bells were tolling noon, further adding to the confusion.

A maxiscreen in St. Peter's Square shows the chimney in all its glory, 24 hours a day, in what must be the most boring TV transmission since the coffee pot webcam was shut down.

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