The Sistine Chapel closed Tuesday ahead of the upcoming conclave to elect a new pope. The chapel will reopen after the pope’s election, but other parts of the Vatican — such as the Borgia apartment — will remain open to visitors.
A conclave of 115 cardinals under the age of 80 will be meeting in the chapel to elect a new pope next week, and all have been sworn to secrecy under threat of excommunication. Under the Apostolic Constitution, which is the highest level of decree issued by the Pope, only cardinals meeting in a “general congregation” can order that the chapel be temporarily closed to prepare for a conclave.
The Vatican is waiting for five more cardinals to arrive in Rome before setting the date for the conclave, according to The Telegraph. The Vatican has also said that it expects to have a new pope in place by Easter, which falls on March 31 this year.
According to The Guardian, there will be two stoves set up in the chapel, one in which the cardinals’ ballots will be burned, and another in which the smoke used to make a signal will be created. If the smoke is white, then a new pope has been elected.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said it was unclear how long the setup would take, but that it would likely be “accelerated” once the date for the start of the conclave is set.
Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation is the first time in 500 years that a pope has abdicated his role as the head of the Catholic Church. With his resignation, the church now faces the special challenge of electing his successor. While the pope’s official explanation was that God told him to quit, there were myriad conspiracy theories and speculation about why he was stepping down. Some of these included a “revelation” about his past as a Hitler Youth, as well as a “prophecy” that the next pope would cause the collapse of the Catholic church.
The Sistine Chapel was scheduled to close 1 pm local time, 7 am EST.