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Re: Canopies Over Cardinal Electors
Question from J.J. on 4/17/2005:
United States

Hi there, this is for the gentleman who asked about the Canopies that was used in Conclaves past.

Mr Donovan is right -- the canopies were taken out due to the lack of space. It was custom to have these canopies for centuries, but Paul VI abolished the practice because it simply was impossible to do to. Too many Cardinals would sit in the Conclave. Before, when the number of electors were fewer, these Cardinals would sit along the walls in the Sistine Chapel where each of them would have a throne complete with canopy. When the number of electors grew, two rows against each wall had to be formed. Naturally, the front row could not have a canopy because it would obstruct the back row.

For those of you wondering why this was the practice, it is because during the Sede Vacante when no Pope sits on Saint Peter's Throne, we the Church have no one visible head on earth. This responsibility rested not just on one man, but on all of the men sitting in the Conclave. Each of the Cardinals would be a caretaker for the Church during the Interregnum, so each were sort-of "junior-kings" (Princes of the Church if you like). Each Cardinal's Throne was to signify their ruling over the Universal Church.

The Cardinals would elect a man to become Pope. This man is asked if he accepts his canonical election. After he accepts, he is asked by what name he wishes to be called. When he says what his new name should be, the Cardinals turn around, pull a cord on their Thrones and the canopies collapse because their ruling over the Church has ended.

It's too bad they don't televise that. It would be cool to watch. Very theatrical, which I like.

But, again, this is no longer the practice, and it hasn't been in a very long time. Maybe the next pope will call for stands to be built in the Sistine Chapel for future conclaves so that this practice might be revived.

Answered on 4/17/2005:

A beautiful, if now no longer observed ceremony. Probably, like enthronement, it may also seem too monarchical today to many.

Thanks for the insight. very helpful!


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