TMF Journey

Images: St. Peter’s Basilica & Sistine Chapel.

The buildings, art and sculpture of St. Peter’s are among the most iconic images in the world. Here are some photos from the largest church in all of Christendom as it prepares to elect a new Supreme Pontiff.

Photos by Paul L. Gleiser

(Click on first image. Then navigate with embedded left and right arrows at the edges of each image.)

The Sistine Chapel-A Jobsite Once Again

by Paul L. Gleiser

(ROME) Tourists wait for hours in order to gain only a few minutes inside the Sistine Chapel. But the process of choosing a new pope puts Catholic cardinals under the age of 80 behind locked doors and under the ceiling created by Michelangelo for hours on end.

Just as it was in 1508 when Michelangelo’s scaffolds afforded him access to the ceiling, the Sistine Chapel was again a jobsite the weekend before the beginning of the papal conclave.

Taking you on the inside.


by Paul L. Gleiser

(ROME) One of the things we are able to accomplish by covering a story like the election of a new pope is to take you places that would be hard, or even impossible to get to, without the kind of credentials that members of the media often have the privilege to obtain.

That’s precisely what we did Saturday afternoon in Rome in advance of the conclave to elect a new pope set to begin on Tuesday.

Special feature: Take an interactive 360° Virtual Tour of the Sistine Chapel.

The Sistine Chapel

If you are ever a tourist in Rome, the Sistine Chapel is a must-see. The chapel gets its name by virtue of having been commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV. The first mass was celebrated in the chapel on August 9, 1473.

The Sistine Chapel is famous for two things: its frescoed ceiling and altar wall, both by Michelangelo, and as the room in which popes are selected.

The Sistine Chapel has been closed to the public for over a week as workers prepare for the conclave that begins Tuesday, March 12. But selected members of the media were given access to the interior of the Sistine Chapel even as preparations were underway.

So here is a little tour of the most famous chapel in the world as it prepares to again take part in the selection of a new pope.

Michelangelo’s Famous Ceiling


The Sistine Chapel is rather plain on the outside. It is inside that it stands apart from all other places of worship. That fact is largely attributable to Michelangelo.

Michelangelo was a sculptor. So he said as loudly and as vehemently as he could. Pope Julius II, though having commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt his funeral monument, was having none of it. In 1508, the pope insisted that Michelangelo sign a contract to begin work on the fresco that would replace the depictions of constellations that had adorned the chapel since its completion 27 years earlier.

It was backbreaking work for Michelangelo. Fresco is not painting. Paint is the application of pigment to a surface. Fresco is coloring the very material that forms the surface.


In order to execute the ceiling fresco, Michelangelo constructed a scaffold and worked on his back day-in and day-out for the four year s it took to complete the work.

The image shown here is one of the most famous scenes from the Sistine ceiling. Called The Creation of Adam, it is one of nine scenes from the Old Testament that form the heart of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The Last Judgment


Some 20 years after completing the ceiling, Michelangelo was again conscripted, this time by Pope Clement VII, to execute a fresco in the Sistine Chapel. This time, the art was to adorn the wall behind the altar.

The Last Judgment was begun in 1536 and finished in 1541.

In this scene, we see a beardless, muscular Christ having come again to fulfill the promise and rendering God’s final judgment of humanity. To his right go those who have earned salvation. To his left are those condemned to eternal damnation.

The Conclave


It is with the figure of Christ in God’s final judgment staring down upon them that the 115 Cardinal Electors will choose a new pope. After having processed up the stairway shown above into the Sistine Chapel, and having processed up this ramp past the  transenna or screen (there to separate pilgrims and worshippers from the pope and other members of the clergy) to sit in four rows, two on either side of the chapel.


Once inside, the Latin words extra omnes are pronounced, meaning, “everybody out.”

The conclave then begins. (Conclave is the Anglicized word for the Italian, con chiave, meaning with key. It means the cardinal electors are locked in.)

The White Smoke and the Black Smoke

Most know that when a ballot of the cardinals is taken, those standing on St. Peter’s Square or watching on TV around the world will see either black smoke or white smoke emerge from the chimney that is put in place atop the Sistine Chapel especially for papal conclaves.


Know one is to ever know how any particular cardinal voted. Once ballots are counted, they are threaded onto a string and the string of ballots is thrown into this furnace, also put in place especially for conclaves.


Then, substances are added to affect the color of the resulting smoke up the chimney. Black smoke for no pope, white smoke for Habemus Papam, “We have a pope.”

What happens on Tuesday?

by Paul L. Gleiser

(ROME) The most watched chimney in the world is the one that issues black smoke when the College of Cardinals has failed to reach a two-thirds majority vote for a new pope, or white smoke when a new pope has been selected.

But the chimney is not a permanent part of the Sistine Chapel roof. It is put in place specifically for papal conclaves. On Saturday, March 9, workers at the Vatican secured the chimney to the roof in advance of the papal conclave, set to begin Tuesday, March 12.

So what happens on Tuesday? For the answer to that question, we asked National Catholic Reporter Vatican Analyst Father Thomas Reese.

Conclave beginning set.


by Paul L. Gleiser

(ROME) The process of actually selecting the successor to Pope Benedict XVI will get underway with the beginning of the conclave on Tuesday, March 12.

The 115 members of the College of Cardinals that are under the age of 80 will begin Tuesday morning with a pro eligendo Romano Pontifice (for the election of the Roman Pontiff) mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. They will then process into the Sistine Chapel to the accompaniment of a choir singing the Litany of the Saints. The Sistine Chapel door will be locked and the conclave will begin.

The locking in of the cardinal electors is what gives the process its name. Conclave is the Anglicized version of the Italian “con chiave,” literally, “with a key.” In ancient times it was sometimes difficult to get the College of Cardinals to bear down on actually selecting a pope. When it took from November 1269 to September 1271 to finally elect Pope Gregory X, the new pontiff instituted the practice of sequestering the cardinals in spartan conditions largely devoid of creature comforts.

At one time, the cardinal electors were literally not allowed to leave the Sistine Chapel until a pope had been selected. Today, however, there are apartments in which the cardinals eat and sleep. But there is no TV, no radio, no Internet and there are no phones. The cardinals are kept cut off from the outside world until their work is done.

No one expects a long conclave. The conclave to elect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany Pope Benedict XVI convened on the morning of April 18 and was over with the announcement of Ratzinger’s selection by 6:00 p.m. on April 19.

All the cardinals are here.


by Paul L. Gleiser

(ROME) There are 115 cardinals in the Catholic Church under the age of 80 and thus eligible to vote in conclave to elect a new pope. The last of them, Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Vietnam, arrived in Vatican City yesterday.

The church, so far avoiding setting a date to begin the election process until all cardinals have arrived, may now do so and that decision could come down as early as this afternoon (Friday, March 8.)

Much of the American media covering the conclave is just now arriving, having been delayed by the northeast winter storm that snarled airline schedules. But with cardinals in town and with the American media now in town, it seems that the process can get underway.


Conclave Runs on Modern Twists to Ancient Rules

Conclave Runs on Modern Twists to Ancient RulesRitual words, uttered in Latin, open and close the secret selection process of the new pope. It starts with “Extra omnes” — or “Everyone out” — expelling all but voting cardinals from the Sistine Chapel where conclave balloting takes place. It ends with “Accepto” — “I accept” — the solemn word the victorious cardinal utters to confirm the judgment of peers who have given him the two-thirds majority needed to become pope. (more…)

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