Inside the world’s most spectacular polling station: The Sistine Chapel prepares for election of new pope

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As polling stations go, it would be hard to top the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel for sheer splendour, and in as little as two weeks’ time the celebrated site of Michelangelo’s Last Judgement will host the conclave of cardinals that  chooses the successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

A small army of decorators, carpenters, electricians and florists are already preparing the chapel for the election, which the outgoing pontiff declared yesterday could be brought forward a week to ensure the Catholic Church is rudderless for as short a time as possible.

Under Michelangelo’s frescoes, there will be 116 chairs made from cherrywood, one for each of the participating cardinals. They will be seated along tables covered in burgundy satin.

Cardinals will put their votes in the urn under the Last Judgement – a process that is repeated until a new pope is chosen.

The only departure from tradition, La Repubblica reports, will be the use of coloured sticks to light the chapel stove, which sends smoke – black, indicating indecision or white smoke indicating a new pontiff has been elected – out of the famous chimney.

Benedict will give his final general audience on Wednesday in  St Peter’s Square.