Rituals to mark change of papacy

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The Independent Online

Death formalities

The prefect of the papal household, Bishop James Harvey, informs the Vatican official called the camerlengo of the Pope's death. The camerlengo, Spanish Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somal, 78, then calls out the pontiff's baptismal name - "Karol" for Pope John Paul II - three times in a ritual to confirm there is no response. He also destroys the symbols of that papacy, the Pescatorio or Ring of the Fisherman and the papal seal, so they cannot be used by anyone else. According to tradition, the Bronze Door at St Peter's Basilica is closed.

Mourning period

Funeral rites last nine days, with the date of the funeral and burial to be decided by the cardinals between the fourth and sixth day after the death. Popes are laid to rest in the crypt underneath St Peter's Basilica, in the Clementine Chapel. Popes are traditionally buried in a casket of cypress wood, which is sealed inside a larger lead casket and then covered with an outer pine box.

The funeral

Funeral will be held in St Peter's Square. Many of the world's leaders are expected to attend. Also on hand will be many of the cardinals, who will select the new pope.


Most popes in recent centuries have chosen to be buried beneath St Peter's Basilica. After the funeral, they are carried through the "door of death" on the left side of the main altar in the basilica. A single bell is tolled. The coffin is lowered into a marble sarcophagus and covered by a huge stone slab. There is speculation that the Polish-born pontiff could have chosen to be interred in Krakow's Wawel Cathedral alongside Polish royalty.


Cardinals from around the world travel to the Vatican to vote. The conclave to elect a new pope starts in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel between 15 and 20 days after the death. For the first time, they are to live in a new residence, Domus Sanctae Marthas, within Vatican City.

There are 117 cardinals under the age of 80 and so eligible to vote. Only two were not appointed by John Paul II. Each cardinal votes by secret written ballot and voting continues until one candidate receives a majority of two-thirds of the votes. If, after 30 such votes, there is no result, a simple majority will suffice. The ballots are tied together by needle and thread and burned with chemicals to make the famous black or white smoke. White smoke pouring from the chapel's chimney signals that a new pontiff has been elected.

The new Pope

After the new Pope says "Accepto" to his election, the dean of the College of Cardinals steps on to the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica to announce "Habemus Papam" ("We have a Pope"). The new Pope then appears in his papal robes and blesses the crowd.