The Conclave’s voting process hardware

This morning at the briefing in the Holy See Press Office, images were displayed of the three “urns” used in the conclave for the collection of the voting slips of the cardinals.  Here is some info from VIS:

Vatican City, 5 March 2013 (VIS) – On a tapestry hanging in the eponymous gallery of 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 relates 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. On the right-hand side 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 that is very similar to the one seen 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 the election of John Paul II.  [See pics below.]
With the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis” concerning the period of Sede Vacante of the Apostolic See and the election of the Roman Pontiff (John Paul II, 22 February 1996), the need arose to adapt the urns to the new norms. It was necessary to add a new urn to the chalice and pyx called for in previous regulations, in order to receive the votes of any cardinals having the right to vote but who were impeded through illness from leaving their room to be present for the voting process in the Sistine Chapel. Rather than creating another urn, three new ones were designed during John Paul II’s pontificate, principally to make them more functional for the intended use, but also to make them uniform.
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 will be used only in the case of the presence in the Conclave of cardinals impeded by illness from leaving their rooms [The “Infirmarii” go to their rooms to collect the votes and bring them back to the Sistine Chapel.] and the third urn will be used to gather the ballots after the scrutiny, before they are burned to produce the traditional smoke announcing to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square either the non-election (black smoke) or the election (white smoke) of the new Pontiff.
The urns are the work of the Italian sculptor Cecco Bonanotte, already known for the new entrance doors of the Vatican Museums that were inaugurated on the occasion of the Jubilee Year 2000. They are made of silver and gilded bronze and their iconography is linked to two fundamental symbols: the first is that of the Good Shepherd and the second of charity. The symbols chosen by the artist for the three urns—a shepherd and his sheep along with more subtle birds, grapes, and ears of grain—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.
The symbolism of the Good Shepherd, however, also underlines the style of exercising this primacy, which is indissolubly linked to charity. This idea is clearly expressed in the Gospel of John (21:15-25) 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 emphasized in the other symbols used to decorate the urns: the birds, grapes, and the ears of grain. Eucharistic bread and wine, which are Christ, accentuate the idea of charity underlined by the sharing of this very bread and the chalice.

As is typical of the art commissioned in that period, the urns remind me of something that might potentially have to be disarmed, but there doesn’t seem to be an LED display with a countdown clock.

In the past the “urns” were more like huge chalices for Mass.

Here are some pics I shot some years ago in Rome during a special exhibit at the Lateran of things used in past conclaves.

The old voting chalice and pyx, which look like a chalice for Mass and a ciborium.  The cardinals put their folded slips on the paten on top of the chalice, and tip it to slide it into the chalice.  As the votes are counted they go into the covered pyx/ciborium to await their eventual stringing up with thread and subsequent fiery fate.

These are very large, by the way.  But the number of electors is higher now and there are, as mentioned above, changes to the process so that a third container was needed (for the votes of the sick cardinals inside the conclave.

Thus, the new “urns”.

To which a third was added.  Shots from this mornings streamed briefing.











There they are!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. eyeclinic says:

    The new urns remind me of the old Edmund Scientific 3-D illusion apparatus wherein one would place a coin in the bottom and a “floating” 3-D image would appear in the opening at the top. If only I had kept mine…

  2. mike cliffson says:

    I see – a reluctant papabile might once have said non accepto in the hope that this chalice would pass, now he’ll have urned the position?

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  3. I get the urge to flail my arms wildly at the sight of the new ones, while shouting…


  4. Giuseppe says:

    The urn looks like a cross between a space ship and a jello mold.

    Has anyone seen the movie “We Have a Pope (Habemus Papam)”, an Italian film in 2011, about a pope who is selected, has a panic attack, and then flees the Vatican? Not the most subtle or sophisticated, but the scenes with the cardinals in conclave and then afterwards are quite funny.

    [I recall something about a volleyball game.]

  5. ocalatrad says:

    Those look like flying saucers from an old sci-fi movie. This just confirms that aliens have indeed infiltrated the Vatican.

  6. Giuseppe says:

    Mike Cliffson – that made my day!

  7. lizaanne says:

    Some folks really know how to ugly things up. The new urns are horrific.

  8. Jason Keener says:

    Hmm…I hate to be a downer, but these new urns are, um, a bit inelegant for the task at hand, no? [They are certainly… different … from what was used in 1978.]

  9. inexcels says:

    Agree with those who have already stated that they look like miniature flying saucers. I once saw an entire church built in the same style. It would have been cool if it could actually lift off, but I never saw any sign of it doing that.

  10. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    These pictures could easily be confused with the previous article on the comets.

  11. PatB says:

    Flying saucers is the first thing that came to my mind…but they are uglier than most flying saucers.

  12. William says:

    Out with the new; and in with the old!

  13. “Beam me up, Scottie!” Says the new pope? Or, in the words of a southern football prognosticator at the end of his weekly radio predictions show, “Get me outta here, Percy!”

  14. Maxiemom says:

    “Cocoon” comes to mind. Except that they are not sitting in water.

  15. mamajen says:

    Eww. I don’t like them at all. Oh well, as long as they get the job done I suppose.

  16. Supertradmum says:

    mamajen, it is the duty of Catholics to merge beauty with utility and so reflect the Truth of God. The Medievals knew how to do this. We don’t

  17. NBW says:

    Carolina Publican- I too feel the urge to shout DANGER WILL ROBINSON! For that matter a lot of the art of Vat.II makes me shout that phrase as well. The urns are unimaginative, modernist, and downright UGLY. They did not get their money’s worth.

  18. Legisperitus says:

    Those urns look ready to fly up into the hollow of that Rainaldi statue and rendezvous with the mother ship.

  19. pelerin says:

    Definitely inspired by Flying Saucers. They are not even ‘urn shaped.’

    Guiseppe – I enjoyed that film in Paris last year. I thought that the Pope’s panic attack was very sensitively detailed and the scene where his double struts in front of the window pretending to be the Pope was very funny. What really surprised me was the fact that the Cinema was full for this film with people of all ages.

  20. hilltop says:

    I knew while reading above that they would be horrible when I saw them below. And they are. The purported sculptor is a hack. And so is the chap who thought we needed new chalices and that they should all look the same. One can make modernist, post-enlightenment objects out of any sumptuous material available, but the silver and gold end up being grossly misused by being formed into ugly things, and that misuse makes the final object that much worse.They should melt those Shinto incense pots down and give the precious metals to someone who knows what Beauty is and how to acheive it in metal smithing.

  21. incorpore says:

    They came to the rescue of the residents of 817 E. 8th Street and they’ve come to help the Church now!

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  22. mamajen says:


    I don’t know what we don’t know how, it’s just that in the design world weirdness, modernity and function over form are heavily encouraged, while references to tradition are frowned upon. I nearly quit architecture school after one semester because of it. It’s sad to see that there are still some in the Vatican who are stuck in that mindset–Pope Benedict obviously preferred the more traditional.

  23. Supertradmum says:

    mamajen, classical is always best

  24. sthelensrcbarry says:

    I am sure these new urns were used in the 2005 conclave, under the approval of Archbishop Piero Marini

  25. Flos Carmeli says:

    I wonder if the story behind these –urns?– is similar to “The Emperors New Clothes”…. Everyone involved was afraid to say the truth of how awful they are for fear of looking backwards or “trad”. :(

  26. Athelstan says:

    I keep expecting Marvin the Martian to pop out.

    After all, I hear that he was into noble simplicity, too.

  27. The symbols chosen by the artist for the three urns—a shepherd and his sheep along with more subtle birds, grapes, and ears of grain—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.

    It’s not unrecognizable…it’s “subtle.” I gotta use that.

    Just go back to the old vessels, and go get a third one, and so what if if doesn’t match, as long as it is worthy for the occasion. Don’t tell me that in all of Vatican City, they can’t scrounge up something.

    And then, for his first artistic reform, the new Holy Father can have these miniature UFOs melted down, right after tearing that hideous seaweed thingie out of the Paul VI hall.

  28. tjmurphy says:

    Maybe after taking care of the more important issues, the new Holy Father will have New urns commissioned for the Next Conclave.

  29. jarhead462 says:

    Oh, Goody! It’s an Illudium Q36 X-17 EXPLOSIVE Space Modulator!
    Either that, or Mars Attacks! (at, at, AT!)
    Maybe they fly around the Conclave, so that the Cardinals do not have to get up.
    Either way, ugly!

    Semper Fi!

  30. catholicmidwest says:

    And when they get done with the election, they can whip up a whole bunch of chinese food with those matching woks.

  31. Phil_NL says:

    You all got it wrong.

    There is NO connection whatsoever with flying saucers here.

    These urns fall firmly into the design specification of landmines.

    And that’s the word we need to spread. Soon there will be a committe fighting against landmines disguised as urns, there will be a UN convention on them that will produce a ban, a Nobel peace prize for the organization advocating for them, and a century later the Vatican will use new urns to get rid of the continuing PR disaster.

    That, my fellow Catholics, is how we get rid of these things!

  32. Mark Scott Abeln says:

    Despicable. Has been a pet peeve of mine for a while.

    I’m not talking about the urns, which are the typical ugly modernist junk, but rather the blue color of the televisions in the last 10 photographs. You would hardly guess that the urns are golden based on the photographs. In my opinion, most televisions are biased far too much towards a blue color balance. (According to rumor this is to make them appear brighter.) Not only does this not conform to studio standards, which assume a color temperature of 6500 degrees Kelvin, equivalent to the noonday sun in mid-latitudes, but the blue light hardly is harmonious with household lighting, which is significantly lower in temperature.

    Lest we forget, art also applies to mundane items.

  33. Pearl says:

    Dear future generations,

    I apologize for the ugliness of the times in which I live. Yes, be very glad you have recovered Beauty. He, as you know, has many names: Truth; Wisdom; Charity….

    I am ashamed for us.

  34. Ignatian seminarian says:

    This is really sad. Why are we [? We?] so focused on chalices and all these external things about our church? What have we become as catholics? There are more things to worry about in the world. [WE can look at these things with interest, curious about the nuts and bolts of the election of a new Supreme Pontifex, and continue to say our prayers, perform works of mercy, walk, chew gum… all at the same time! Thank you for being the one here who only worries about important things.]

  35. mamajen says:

    ROFL @incorpore’s contribution above! A well-deserved gold star!

  36. Sofia Guerra says:

    Please take a good look at the “artist” who designed these “spittoons”.

    Take a look at an image search for spittoons…

    This is scary at the very least. In a time when His Holiness Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has brought us back to sensibility and to understanding God’s gift of beauty & aesthetics in our Sacred Liturgy and in our Churchs, this is NOT where we need to go….BACKWARD.
    I certainly am not saying that Signore Bonanotte is not a talent. Beauty of course, is in the eye of the beholder… the case of the Church, we have been down this road before and it failed…miserably.
    My bishop, the great Robert C Morlino of Madison Wisconsin is a leader in this area.
    Diocese of Madison, The Year of Faith: Evangelization through Beauty…
    Please go to :

    His Excellency, Robert Morlino so gets it….obviously the obsession of modernists in Italian society don’t. I have never seen such a distraction as the “modern” techno art/architecture scene in Italy, particularly in Rome/Milan. Of course, I am speaking of the secular society but it has crept into Church there. In particularly, local parishes whose historical places have been defaced with this type of artistic “progress”. Sad, but true. Cashmere communism at it’s best…or I might say worst…

  37. Todd says:

    Agreeing with the general theme.

  38. The Masked Chicken says:

    Perhaps someone can upload a virus to the mothership?

    The urns have turned.

    The Chicken

    [Independence Day?]

  39. jbosco88 says:

    If the current Marini has anything to do with it, these might be forgotten about or be deemed unsuitable.

    I’m reminded of our new Parish Priest, who “accidentally” tripped and dropped the entire box of pottery chalices on a concrete floor. [Ooops! Oh darn!]

  40. frjim4321 says:

    Interesting. Thanks.

  41. acardnal says:

    Sofia Guerra, are you implying there are Cardinals who chew tobacco?

  42. Giuseppe says:

    Father Z, not only did “We Have a Pope (Habemus Papam)” (2011) have a volleyball game, it featured a multi-continent all-cardinal volleyball tournament. It really is a funny film, and I encourage it for everyone to take your mind off of some of the stresses that in sede vacante stirs in all of us. And, yes, Pelerin, the Swiss Guardsman who strutted in front of the pope’s window when he went missing was hilarious. So was the pope’s psychotherapy session in front of the entire college of cardinals.

  43. CharlesG says:

    I’m with catholicmidwest. I thought immediately of a Chinese wok with its cover.

  44. UncleBlobb says:

    The emperor has no clothes.

  45. Charivari Rob says:

    Well, at least there are no Cardinals named “Potter” or “Rowling”. We’d have to endure all sorts of dippy articles suggesting parallels to The Goblet of Fire

  46. Angie Mcs says:

    Pardon my ignorance but what is that thing in the fourth screen down? It looks like a hand grenade.

  47. Angie Mcs says:

    Sorry, , I meant the third blue screen down.

  48. The Masked Chicken says:

    Ohhh…I just had a great idea…a real money-maker for a computer game. It will be called, CONCLAVE: The Red Hats. Throw in a little apocalyptic back-story, an albino monk, here or there, and a martial arts face-off between the chamberlain and the person who burns the straw for the chimney smoke (forgot who that is). There will be hidden objects and clues at the bottom of the urns (one of them will be bugged, of course). There will be a guest appearance by William Shatner. The game will be fifty years out of date like the Vatican Press Office and have the option to play in Vatican II mode.

    Oh, I smell big bucks…

    The Chicken

  49. KAS says:

    These are incredibly ugly. It is like the artist wanted to be as unpleasant as possible to show contempt and hatred for the Church.

  50. An American Mother says:

    I can’t decide between Plan 9 from Outer Space

    or an old WWII German Teller mine

    In either case, bad, bad, bad. NAUGHTY artist! Go sit in the corner and pray for enlightenment.

  51. Giuseppe says:

    Olim? Unless I’ve been missing the obvious, when did Father Z add ‘olim’ to his top title banner? I love it!

  52. wmeyer says:

    AAM, in Plan 9 from Outer Space, the flying saucer was clearly a dime-store (yes, I am old) pie tin. The Teller Mine is a closer fit.

  53. An American Mother says:

    I’ll see you your dime store and raise you a five-and-dime. Howzzat? :-)
    I agree that the Teller mine is closer. My dad had some close encounters with them in Italy, he was in the combat engineers and he yanked ’em for a living. God’s grace that a couple of them did not detonate although they should have.

  54. wmeyer says:

    AAM, I’ll see your five-and-dime. There was one in the next town over. ;)

    In passing, I note that Plan 9 does take the award for all-time worst SF film.

  55. Melody says:

    Wow, they really do look like props from an old Doctor Who serial. Disguised Cybermats maybe?

  56. sciencemom says:

    @Angie Mcs – good question!
    I dunno, unless it’s Dalek Asparagus or a Goauld Saguaro.

Comments are closed.