VATICAN CITY – The chimney is up, the tourists are out and the cardinals are on deck.
Final preparations were underway Saturday in Michelangelo’s splendid Sistine Chapel for the conclave of prelates who will elect a new pope to head the Roman Catholic Church.
Journalists were given a look inside the famed chapel where the red-hatted cardinals, the “princes” of the church, will begin their secret proceedings Tuesday to try to settle on a new leader from within their ranks.
At the back of the frescoed interior sat the pair of stoves that will be the 115 cardinals’ only form of communication with the outside world. Ballots will be burned in one stove and special coloring chemicals in the other, their fumes mixing in a combined duct to create black smoke to signal an inconclusive vote and white puffs to show a new pope has been elected.
The chimney – a simple, skinny copper pipe – was installed by firefighters Saturday morning. It runs up the wall and out one of the chapel’s windows. The tiny smokestack on the roof is visible to tourists and pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.
The second stove for the chemicals was added only during the last conclave in 2005, when now-retired Pope Benedict XVI was elected, to help eager spectators avoid confusion over the color of the smoke. As added confirmation when a pope is chosen, the bells of St. Peter’s Basilica will ring.
Workers were busy Saturday setting up the chairs and tables where the cardinals will sit in order of seniority. A false floor has been laid above the chapel’s regular floor in order to provide the cardinals, some of them in their late 70s, an even surface on which to walk forward to cast their secret ballots.
Tourists were banned earlier from the chapel, one of the most-visited sites in Rome and the Vatican. Workers are also sweeping the interior for any bugging devices that would compromise the oath of secrecy the cardinals will swear when the conclave begins.