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An eclectic offering of papal conclave trivia

Over the centuries, three freshly minted popes were strangled by poor losers

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Three freshly elected popes were strangled by poor losers. Another was banished from Rome immediately after his election. Still another was so disliked by the Romans that after his election, they wouldn't let him into town.

In 1590, King Philip II of Spain made the papal election simple: He issued a list of papabili -- cardinals worthy of being pope -- with seven names on it and said he would get rid of anyone elected who wasn't on the list. Gregory XIV was elected. He was on the list.

Marozia, a woman (of all people) who ruled Rome in 928, got rid of a pope she didn't like, John X, and engineered the elections of his two successors, Leo VI and Stephen VII, all in the same year.

Urban IV was elected in 1261 because he happened to be passing through Rome on business. Urban VI was elected in 1378, but he was so crazy that he caused a schism in the church that lasted 39 years.

Sergius III took the papacy in 904 at the head of an army. Benedict IX, a layman said to have "an ignoble personal reputation," was elected pope three times by bribery between 1032 and 1048 (and expelled from Rome twice). The year 1046 is memorable for having three elected popes.

Thus the cardinals who enter the Vatican's Sistine Chapel at 4:30 p.m. Monday for the conclave to elect a successor to John Paul II do so with a colourful history behind them.

Herewith an offering of conclave trivia:

The word conclave means "with key." The elector-cardinals -- 115 of the 117 (two are ill) who are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to elect a new pope -- will lock the three-metre-high chapel door behind them to keep intruders out, which is not how the custom began: The door originally was locked to keep the cardinals in.

The average age of the 115 electors is 71.7 years.

The average age of a pope elected over the past 100 years is 65.

Since 1179, election of a pope has been restricted to cardinals (the word comes from the Latin for "hinge," signifying their connection between the pope and the universal church) and has required a two-thirds-majority vote.

Gregory X in 1274 decreed the cardinals had to be locked up to vote. That was after the famous conclave of Viterbo where the cardinals dithered nearly three years until the townspeople locked them in the palace where they were staying and put them on a diet of bread and water.

The second longest conclave -- 27 months -- elected Celestine V, a miracle-working hermit, on July 5, 1294. He was otherwise incompetent and agreed to resign five months later, but was prevented by his successor, Boniface VIII, from returning to his retreat. He died under house arrest.

Twenty-nine conclaves have lasted a month or more, but in recent years, they've got shorter. The last conclave to go more than five days was 54 days in 1831. The longest conclave of the 20th century was five days in 1922, when Pius XI was elected after 15 ballots.

The shortest conclave was the one that elected Pius XII in 1939 in less than 24 hours, although Julius II's conclave in 1503 must be a close contender. He bought the papacy with massive bribes, and banned simony -- the word for buying or selling ecclesiastical positions -- two years later.

Conclaves for the four popes since Pius XII have, respectively, lasted two days (John Paul II), one day (John Paul I), two days (Paul VI) and three days (John XXIII).

In 1591, Gregory XV forbade betting on papal elections. The Irish bookmakers, Paddy Power, are giving 7-2 odds on Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze as the front-runner next week.

The last pope elected outside Rome was Pius VII in 1800 in Venice. All popes have been elected in the Vatican since Pius IX hid there and refused to leave after the Papal States were annexed by the new Kingdom of Italy in 1870.

John II was the first pope, in 533, to take a new name after being elected. That's because his birth name was Mercury, after a pagan god. He is famous for contradicting a previous pope. The second pope to change his name was John XII in 955. He also was likely the youngest pope, elected at age 18, and the Encyclopedia of Catholicism says "his private life was marked by gross immorality."

The last pope to keep his own name was Marcellus II, elected in 1555. He also had a modest coronation, reduced the size of the church's governing Curia and ordered his relatives to stay out of Rome so as to combat nepotism.

Paddy Power is offering 3-1 odds that the next pope will take the name of Benedict and 7-2 odds that he will take the name John Paul.

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