The Conclave Begins

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 - St. Peter's and the River Tevere from the Ponte Sisto bridge

St. Peter’s and the Tevere from the Ponte Sisto bridge – March 12, 2013

Rome woke up this morning to sunny skies and a muddy, fast-moving Tevere that had overflowed its sidewalks as it has so many times this rainy winter. At 11 a.m. or so, the skies darkened and rain came down in torrents, accompanied by thunder and lightning. At 2:30 the skies opened up again, and hail came down in torrents, accompanied by thunder and lightning. I’m afraid to look out the window again this afternoon—I may see snow coming down in torrents, accompanied by thunder and lightning. Doesn’t the weather know that today is the beginning of a momentous occasion: the election of a new pope?

St. Peter's from Via della Concilazione - March 12, 2013

St. Peter’s from Via della Concilazione – March 12, 2013

I headed to St. Peter’s Square around noon to buy some special sede vacante MMXIII (vacant seat 2013) stamps issued by the Vatican City State. Because of the poor weather, I rode the bus, even though I could have walked there in 20 minutes. I should have walked—I would have arrived sooner. Traffic heading to St. Peter’s was congested, to say the least.

I finally got to the bus stop and headed up Via della Concilazione, the main drag leading into St. Peter’s Square. It was swamped with people walking, people driving, police trying to direct traffic (which has to be like herding cats in Rome!), tour buses jamming the street—mamma mia! About every 15 steps or so, clergy of all sorts posed before cameras and spoke into microphones as the media tried to make news. St. Peter’s stood quietly at the end of the block—no people on the wide veranda leading into the church, probably because the cardinals were just finishing their prayer service.

Temporary Vatican post office - but no people!

Temporary Vatican post office – but no people!

The closer I got to the square, the quieter it became, and although a line of people wrapped around the edge of the square as they waited to get into the basilica, the inside of the square was shockingly empty. I saw several excited religious groups in their interesting vestments and many, many TV crews but few tourists. How odd! A few hardy souls had staked out spots next to the barriers up front. I wonder if they’ll stay there until the end of the conclave? It would be too cold for me!

A mobile post office was parked on the left side of the square and a short line of people waited to enter. I walked past it to the “real” post office near the exit from the basilica. I thought for a minute that it might be closed because no people milled around outside. I got to the interregnum stamp window and waited behind three people! Did the weather discourage people from watching the chimney? Do people think that a pope probably won’t be elected today and are waiting for another day?

Central balcony of St. Peter's drraped in maroon. The new pope is introduced from this balcony - March 12, 2013

Central balcony of St. Peter’s drraped in dark red – March 12, 2013

Several TV stands with lights blazing were set up outside the square—a large one next to the square at the end of Via della Concilazione, another large one at the foot of Via della Concilazione (near the Tevere), and several small ones on the hill to the southeast of the square.

The balcony on which the new pope will be introduced was draped in dark red, as were the pillars that support it. That’s not usually the case. I was surprised that the chimney on the top of the Sistine Chapel is so tiny from the square. If they announce today’s vote (they don’t have to), I wonder how anyone can see the smoke, with such a tiny chimney and such a dark sky.

I don’t like crowds, so I probably won’t go back. I’ll wait for the church bells throughout Rome to toll to learn that we have a new pope. But I’m glad I went today. This is so much fun!


P1110339A note about the interregnum stamps: The light green background (€0.70) is for mail to Italy, the light blue background (€0.85) is for mail to Europe,  the gray background (€2.00) is for mail to the Americas, and the yellow background (€2.50) is for mail to Oceania. These stamps may be used as postage only during the sede vacante, which ends when the new pope is elected. The stamps depict an angel with two keys covered by a canopy, the heraldic arms of the Vatican chamberlain or camerlengo. The chamberlain acts as the administrator of the Holy See during the sede vacante.

Chimney on right - just to the left of the antenna

Chimney on right – just to the left of the antenna on the far right

Chimney is on the right side of the photo below the antenna

Chimney is on the right side of the photo below the antenna

TV stands on Via della Concilazione

TV stands on Via della Concilazione

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7 Responses to The Conclave Begins

  1. Meredith Prock says:

    What a terrific time to be in Rome! Lucky you!

  2. Nikki says:

    How EXCITING!!!!

  3. Suzie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! Of course we are following this @ school, so your pictures and observations are fantastic and my second graders will be excited with the photos. We’ve watched the Vatican webcams and now they’ll feel like they are getting the inside scoop!
    So excited about the beautiful new grandbaby! Can’t wait to see more pics! I have a diary entry from 6th grade when Alison was born…time flies!:-)
    Love to you & Uncle Michael

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