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Nine days are allowed according to the ancient constitutions for the preparations for the Conclave and the arrival of those members of the Sacred College who maybe at a distance. In these days the time allowed is sufficient. But it was in many cases evidently insufficient in former times. The present Pope owes his Papacy of more than thirty years to the insufficiency of the time allowed for the arrival of foreign cardinals. . Cardinal Gaysruck, the Austrian, was on his way to the Conclave from Vienna, hastening as fast as post-horses could bring him and Austria's "veto" against the very man who was elected, with which he was commissioned. His posthorses did not go quick enough. He arrived too late, and found the man he was sent specially to exclude already elected!
The nine days are little enough, too, for the mere material preparations for the Conclave. In recent times the Conclaves have been always held either at the Quirinal or the Vatican. It is evident that the next must be held at the latter palace; and there the necessary arrangements will have to be made at the death of Pius IX. "To tell you the matter in one word," writes President de Brosses to his correspondent, "they build a town in a house, and a quantity of little houses in vast chambers, from which you may conclude that of all the towns in the world this Conclave town is the stuffiest and the least pleasant to live in."
The first business is for the bricklayer to wall up all doors and windows, leaving at the top of the latter one or two panes of glass to give a little light to the interior. This immense operosity in acting out to the life a comedy, 'which at best is but a symbol, and now a symbol from which the significance has departed, is curiously characteristic of priestly Eome and its ways of being and doing!
The halls in the interior of the Vatican are numerous and large enough for the accommodation of a dozen Conclaves. The apartments, the walls of which are decorated with priceless paintings, are not used for the purpose. The great peristyle over the entrance to St. Peter's forms, as De Brosses remarks, an extremely spacious gallery, where there is room for two ranges of cells, and a corridor in the middle between them. Seventeen cells can be constructed in that gallery alone, and they are some of the most convenient in the Conclave. Each cell is composed of a small chamber in which is the cardinal's bed, another small room by the side of it, and a stair to climb to a sort of garret above the cell, in which space is found for two little rooms for his two conclavists. Constructed thus in different parts of the interior of the palace, of course some of the cells are very much better than others. Their Eminences draw lots for them. Thus, on the occasion described by De Brosses, the French Cardinal Tencin, of whom I spoke in a previous chapter, had the luck to get the cell immediately over the central door of St. Peter's, so that the projection of the balcony in that part gave room for an extra chamber in his cell, which served as a good-sized study. But then, on the other hand, as the President remarks, that cell would be sure to be wrecked and everything in it pillaged when the new Pope should come to give his benediction to the people assembled in the piazza of St. Peter from that balcony. Also Tencin had been able to gain a little space at the expense of his neighbour Molto, who, it was known, was not coming to the Conclave. For it is to be understood that a cell must be prepared for every member of the College whether he comes or not, at the cost of each cardinal for his own— a cost which De Brosses at the time he wrote estimates at five or six thousand francs, remarking that the Roman workmen took the opportunity to fleece their Eminences outrageously, as indeed must have been the case if such a sum as £200 or £250 had to be paid for such a cell as is described. If the cost was five or six thousand francs in 1740, it would at the same rate be at least double at the present day.
Each little dwelling—cell, as it is called, although in fact it consists, as has been said, of three or four cells—is constructed of ordinary fir planks, covered uniformly on the outside with serge of violet colour if the inhabitant is a "creature" of the Pope who has just died, of green if he be of any anterior creation. In the coming Conclave the more sombre of these colours will assuredly be the prevailing hue in the Conclave. On the inside the cells are fitted up according to the pleasure of the individual occupant, and, as may be supposed, are for the most part simple enough. On the occasion of the Conclave at the death of Clement XII., the cell of the "Infant of Spain," then a member of the Sacred College, whom there was no chance of seeing at the Conclave, was magnificently fitted up with damask draperies, and consoles and marble tables, while the windows in it were made as large as possible in order that all this magnificence might be seen to advantage from the outside. "One would say," remarks De Brosses, "that it was the cafi of the Conclave." The other cells, which are to be really inhabited, have a little square window, which admits a small portion of such dubious light as can be had from the corridors, themselves darksome enough. "There they live," says the lively French President, "packed like herrings in a barrel, without air, without light, burning candles at mid-day, a prey to infection, devoured by fleas and bugs! A pretty sort of residence it will be if their Eminences do not get their business finished before the heat begins! It is reckoned accordingly that three or four cardinals generally die of it every Conclave!" If this is somewhat of an exaggeration, it will have been seen from such scattered notices as have found place in the foregoing pages that the percentage of cardinals killed by Conclaves has been by no means a small one! And it will be understood how sincerely the members of the Sacred College must pray that the heavenward flight of the holy father may be in the winter!
The Cardinal Camerlengo, as Chief of the Apostolic Chamber, is Governor of the Conclave, and has all the police of it in his hands. In the Conclave of which De Brosses has preserved the anecdotes I have availed myself of in this chapter, the Cardinal Albani, we are told, performed these duties in a haughty and severe spirit. He makes his round every evening to see that all is quiet and in good order. He places emissaries as sentinels to prevent visits by night by one cardinal to another. But, says De Brosses, they find means to prowl about in the darkness. The anecdotes of other Conclaves which have been given, and indeed those concerning this Conclave and of Albani's own conduct in it, abundantly show that all these pretended precautions were like so much else—may one not say like everything else?—connected with the subject, a mere sham and solemn farce! When a cardinal wishes to be alone in his cell, he causes a couple of rods provided for the purpose to be placed crosswise before his door, which is understood to be a sign that "he is sleeping, or that at all events he does not wish to be disturbed."
The first day in the Conclave, or rather the afternoon and evening of the day, on which the cardinals, having heard the mass and sung the hymn "Veni Creator," proceed to their prison-house, is full of bustle. Many last words have to be said. The ambassadors of the Catholic powers are then paying their last visits to their Eminences. It is the very high-tide of intrigues, solicitations, promises, warnings, dissimulations, and lies! Then at the ringing of a bell the master of the ceremonies pronounces an "Extra Omnes," and the last door is shut and walled up, and the Conclave has begun.