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Quirky papal conclave facts

Cardinals walked in procession to the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican for the conclave to elect the new head of the Roman Catholic Church in 2005.

AP File/2005

Cardinals walked in procession to the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican for the conclave to elect the new head of the Roman Catholic Church in 2005.

LONGEST CONCLAVE: In 1268, a conclave began that lasted nearly three years — 33 months to be exact. Pope Gregory X was elected pope, but not before residents of Viterbo, north of Rome, tore the roof off the building where the cardinals were staying and restricted their meals to bread and water to make them hurry up. Hoping to avoid a repeat, Gregory decreed in 1274 that cardinals would only get one meal a day if the conclave stretched beyond three days, and served bread, water and wine if it went beyond eight. While the meals served these days at the Vatican’s hotel are by no means gourmet, the cardinals won’t go hungry — no matter how long they take picking a pope.

SHORTEST CONCLAVE: Before 1274, there were times when a pope was elected the same day as the death of his predecessor. After that, however, the church decided to wait at least 10 days before the first vote; later that was stretched to 15 days to give all cardinals time to get to Rome. The quickest conclave observing the 10-day wait rule appears to have been the 1503 election of Julius II, who was elected in just a few hours, according to Vatican historian Ambrogio Piazzoni.

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YOUNGEST/OLDEST POPE ELECTED: Pope John XII was just 18 when he was elected in 955. The oldest popes were Pope Celestine III (elected in 1191) and Celestine V (elected in 1294) who were both nearly 85. Benedict XVI was 78 when he was elected in 2005.

FUN FACTS: The last time a pope was elected who wasn’t a cardinal was Urban VI in 1378 — he was a monk and archbishop of Bari. Pope Pius XII, who was pope during World War II, left a document informing the College of Cardinals that they should hold a conclave and elect a new pope if he were taken prisoner. While the Italians have had a stranglehold on the papacy over centuries, there have been many exceptions aside from John Paul II (Polish in 1978) and Benedict XVI (German in 2005). Alexander VI, elected in 1492, was Spanish; Gregory III, elected in 731, was Syrian; Adrian VI, elected in 1522, was from the Netherlands.

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