Sanctae Marthae & The New Urns
Used in the Election of the Pope
The St. Martha Foundation
The current St Martha House ("Domus Sanctae
Marthae"), is a Foundation. Prior to this there existed an institution
known as the St Martha Hospice, within which there was also a Pontifical
Dispensary of St Martha.
The "Domus" is a modern residence for
cardinals and other prelates visiting Rome (it has 106 suites, 22 single
rooms and one apartment). It is run by the Daughters of Charity of St
Vincent de Paul, which is the most numerous female religious
congregation in the world today, with some 22,000 religious. The "Domus"
has a direct link with the social and charitable work undertaken by the
Daughters of Charity from the late 19th century and throughout the 20th
century, especially during the Second World War.
During the period of vacant See, all the
occupants of the "Domus" have to leave in order to make way for the
cardinal electors. During the Conclave, in addition to the cardinal
electors, people who already reside in the Vatican and who according to
the Apostolic Constitution "Universi Dominici gregis" also participate
in the Conclave, will also move into Sanctae Marthae.
From a juridical point of view, today's "Domus"
is a "Foundation," set up in 1996 by means of chirograph written by the
Pope himself. This Foundation took the place of a pre-existing
Foundation established by Pope Leo XIII, who in 1891 decided to dedicate
an area within the Vatican as a hospice to help the sick living in the
neighborhoods near the Vatican, also to face a cholera epidemic
afflicting various Italian cities at the time. During the Second World
War, the hospice was used to welcome refugees, Jews, and ambassadors
from countries that had broken diplomatic relations with Italy.
John Paul II's 1996 chirograph, decrees that
a "new building is to be constructed on the area part of which housed
the said Hospice, and with a view to the situation that has arisen in
the meantime. I have decided to suppress the earlier Foundation and to
create a new Foundation under the title of Domus Sanctae Marthae
designating it to offer hospitality - in a spirit of authentic priestly
fraternity - to ecclesiastical personnel serving at the Secretariat of
State and, as far as possible, at other Dicasteries of the Roman Curia,
as well as to cardinals and bishops visiting Vatican City to see the
Pope or to participate in events and meetings organized by the Holy See.
All this to be in accordance with what is laid down in the Apostolic
Constitution Universi Dominici gregis, which allocates the building for
the exclusive use of the cardinal electors during the Conclave for the
election of the Supreme Pontiff."
Therefore, apart from the cardinal electors,
certain other people also enter the Domus Sanctae Marthae and the
Conclave, people whose presence is important for the proper running of
the election process and whom paragraph 46 of Universi Dominici gregis
indicates in these terms: "In order to meet the personal and official
needs connected with the election process, the following individuals
must be available and therefore properly lodged in suitable areas within
the confines mentioned in No. 43 of this Constitution: the Secretary of
the College of Cardinals, who acts as Secretary of the electoral
assembly; the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations with two Masters
of Ceremonies and two Religious attached to the Papal Sacristy; and an
ecclesiastic chosen by the Cardinal Dean or by the Cardinal taking his
place, in order to assist him in his duties. There must also be
available a number of priests from the regular clergy for hearing
confessions in the different languages, and two medical doctors for
possible emergencies. Appropriate provisions must also be made
beforehand for a suitable number of persons to be available for
preparing and serving meals and for housekeeping. All the persons
indicated here must receive prior approval from the Cardinal Camerlengo
and the three Cardinal Assistants."
The New Urns for the Election of the Pope
On a tapestry that can be seen in a gallery
in the Vatican Museums, we find one of the oldest witnesses of the
chalice-urns that served to gather the ballots of the cardinals voting
in the election of a new pontiff.
The tapestry refers to an episode narrated in
the chronicles of the election of Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644).
In the final scrutiny, during the counting of
the ballots, one ballot was missing. To the right of the tapestry, one
can see a scrutineer who is looking inside a large chalice with
attention and interest, as if to verify the presence of the lost ballot.
A chalice very similar to the one in the
tapestry and a pyx (ciborium) are preserved in the pontifical sacristy
of the Sistine Chapel. This chalice and pyx have been used to gather the
voting ballots in the conclaves of the last century, up to John Paul II.
With the promulgation of the Apostolic
Constitution "Universi Dominici gregis" concerning the vacant see of the
Apostolic See and the election of the Roman Pontiff (John Paul II,
February 22, 1996), the need arose to adapt the urns to the new norms.
In fact, it was necessary to add a new urn to the chalice and pyx
foreseen in previous regulations to receive the votes of any cardinals
having the right to vote but who are impeded through illness from
leaving their room to be present for the vote counting in the Sistine
Chapel. Rather than creating another urn, three new ones have been
designed, principally to make them more functional for the intended use,
but above all to make them uniform and in the same style, dignified and
The function of the urns is described in
Chapter V of the Constitution, which also speaks of a plate to be placed
on top of the first urn. Every cardinal, in fact, must "place his ballot
on the plate, with which he drops it into the receptacle beneath."
The second urn, as has already been noted,
will be used only in the case of the presence in the Conclave of
cardinals impeded by illness from leaving their rooms, and the third urn
will be used to gather the ballots after the scrutiny, before they are
burned, which causes the traditional smoke to announce to the faithful
gathered in St. Peter's Square the non-election (black smoke) or the
election (white smoke) of the new Pontiff.
To create the new urns an artist of renown
was needed who could undertake such an assignment. The choice fell to
the sculptor Cecco Bonanotte, well known in the Vatican as the author of
the new entrance doors of the Vatican Museums, inaugurated on the
occasion of the Jubilee Year 2000.
Collaboration between this artist and the
Holy See began in 1975 with the "forziere" (a coffer) walled into the
Holy Door of the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls at the closing
of the Jubilee of that year and the votive lamp given by Paul VI to the
catacombs of St. Callixtus to mark that same Holy Year. In 1985
Bonanotte created the sculpture "The Journeys of St. Paul," which was
donated by John Paul II to the United Nations headquarters. For the Holy
See pavillion at Expo 2000 in Hannover, Germany, the sculptor created a
three-dimensional work in bronze, which is now in the gardens of the new
apostolic nunciature in Berlin.
The three urns, done in silver and gilded
bronze, are further confirmation of an aesthetic, artistic path of
notable prestige, and underline the appreciation for Bonanotte not only
in Italy, but especially abroad.
Bonanotte's sculpture is marked by the use of
bronze, worked with refined and ancient techniques: "cera persa," (a
method of fusing bronze through the liquefaction of a model in wax) for
works in the round, and with models in plaster for reliefs. These are
treated with a light patina which underlines the various chromatics of
the bronze, the irregularities on the surface and the contrast between
opaqueness and brightness. The sensation received is that of a space
which opens up beyond the visual plane. And this is precisely the
characteristic of Bonanotte's art: ancient and modern harmonize in
barely accented forms where the classical tradition of perfection is
tempered in a vision of open lines that suggest infinity.
The language of the urns is fundamentally
linked to two symbols: the first, iconographically emerging, is that of
the shepherd and his sheep, the other, barely accented, of birds, grapes
and ears of grain. In the symbols chosen by the artist the three urns
are united in a simple and direct way to the meaning that the person of
the Pope has in the Church: the shepherd, indeed the Good Shepherd who,
in the name of Christ, has the duty of "confirming his brothers" (Luke
22,31) in the faith. In that "confirm" is the declaration of the primacy
of Peter over the Apostles and, as a consequence, the primacy of the
Pope over the other bishops. But the symbolism of the Good Shepherd also
underlines the style of exercising this primacy, linked indissolubly to
charity. This idea is clearly expressed in the Gospel of John (21,15ff)
where "feeding" the flock is joined inseparably to loving care: "Simon
of John, do you love me?..." Peter tells him: "Lord, you know
everything, you know that I love you: "Feed my lambs."
The relationship of love between Jesus and
Peter, and as a consequence between the Pope and the Church, is
underlined and confirmed by the artist in the other symbols used to
decorate the urns: birds, grapes and the ears of grain.
In a mosaic in the Basilica of San Apollinare
Nuovo in Ravenna (6th century) there is a scene of the Last Supper with
Jesus and the apostles. At the center of the table, on a plate, instead
of the chalice of wine, there are two fish: an original way to
synthesize the Eucharist that, under the signs of bread and wine, make
Christ present in His Mystery of death and Resurrection. The word
"fish," in fact, translated in Greek, in the letters that compose it is
an acrostic, that is, a word composed of several letters which in, our
case, leads us to a sentence: "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour." And
this is the reason why paleo-Christian art often has the image of a fish
as the symbol of Christ.
But it is the symbol of the ear of grain that
in a more direct and immediate way links to Christ, "the living bread."
The ear is at the origin of bread, the basic nourishment for man and, as
such, at the origin of Eucharistic symbolism.
Eucharistic bread and wine, which are Christ,
accentuate the idea of charity underlined by the sharing of this very
bread and the chalice: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a
participation in the blood of Christ? And the bread which we break, is
it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one
bread, we who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one
bread (I Cor 10, 15-17)
The Pope, in the sign of the Eucharist, thus
becomes the living sign of unity between Christ and His Church.
The very placement of the symbols chosen by
the artist for the diverse urns confirms and develops this meaning.
The idea of the Good Shepherd, underlined by
the three little sheep and the bas relief, adorns the urn that will hold
the ballots of the cardinal electors: the plate that will serve to
introduce the single ballots into the urn bears the symbols of the
birds, the grapes and the ears of grain.
On the top of the urn which will hold the
just-counted ballots, there is the figure of the Good Shepherd. At the
feet of the little sculpture are two crossed keys, the traditional
symbol of papal "power." The symbol is rooted in the Gospel, the Lord
tells Peter that He will give him: "...the keys to the Kingdom of
heaven..." (Mt. 16,19), prescinding from every interpretation on the
human level of the term "power." The structural organization of the urn
underlines that the sign of power takes specific form in the figure of
the Good Shepherd that dominates and rises above the symbol of the keys.
Bonanotte's artistic intuitions come from a
passionate research. The structure of the urns, "meteors" of light and
the images which adorn them, seem to give visual consistency to the
archetypes of the human soul. This type of operation is very complex and
difficult; everything must be brought to the basic essence of things,
beyond any abstruseness or easy ideological and intellectual schematics.
The result on Bonanotte's three urns is evident: the barely perceptible
embossed lines and the indistinct figures: everything serves one
purpose, so essential as to constitute the sense and scope of a service,
such as that of the Roman Pontiff for the entire Church.
Thus, beyond their value as instruments, the
urns reveal the importance and the responsibility of the cardinals
called to elect the successor of Peter. The task cannot be dismissed, as
often happens in journalistic services, as a tactical-political
operation. If it was like this it would have been difficult to have
pontiffs of the stature of John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II, just to
cite the names of only a few Popes of the last century.