Conclaves Through History: 7 Moments That Shaped the Process

PHOTO: St Peters square is seen early on the first day of the conclave, March 12, 2013, at the Vatican.PlayGuiseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images
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As the world waits for white smoke to curl out of the Sistine Chapel's chimney, signifying a new pope, check out these seven facts about the history of the secret, mystical process of the conclave.

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The tradition of taking a papal name dates back to 533 when Pope John II became the first to adopt a new name. He felt his birth name, Mercurius, was inappropriate since it was also the name of a pagan God.

Pope Alexander II implemented the rule of two-thirds majority to be elected in 1169. With 115 cardinal electors participating in the current conclave, that means it will take 77 votes to elect a pope.

Although the new pope will be the 266th in the history of the church, this is technically speaking, the 75th conclave. Pope Boniface VIII inserted the rules in 1295 in the Code of Canon Law. In Latin, conclave -- cum clave-- translates to "with a key," a reference to the voting behind locked doors.

Although the cardinal electors usually choose one of their own to be pope, any baptized Catholic male is eligible for the job. When Blessed Gregory X was elected in 1271, he was quickly ordained as a priest, then a bishop and then pope.

Pope Gregory XV was the first pope to rule that cardinal electors must vote secretly and in writing. Gregory XV was elected in 1621 by "spontaneous acclamation" in which the cardinals, acting under the influence of the Holy Spirit, proclaimed the name of the next pontiff.

After the next pope is elected, he will be taken to one of the most secret rooms of the conclave, the "Room of Tears." The small room, which is just to the left of the altar of the Sistine Chapel, gets its name from all of the tears that have been shed by newly-elected popes over the years. It is here that Benedict XVI's successor will dress himself in the red and white papal vestments.

Pope John Paul II was the first pope to specify that a conclave must take place in the Sistine Chapel. Previous popes had only recommended the secret process take place under Michelangelo's frescoes. Throughout history the conclaves have been held in a variety of churches in Rome and elsewhere.

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