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Finding a new Pope: secrets behind the conclave

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Tradition and secrecy will be at their utmost beneath the dazzling ceiling of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel next month, when 117 cardinals don their robes and gather to elect a new pope. Pope Benedict XVI shockingly announced last week that he was to stand down due to 'advanced age', making the approaching conclave to vote the 266th leader of the Roman Catholic Church the first of its kind for 600 years. Although the Vatican has temporarily be thrown into havoc – the Pope will step down at 8pm on 28 February and a conclave will be held to find a new Supreme Pontiff before Easter – the rules and rituals to elect his successor will follow tradition nonetheless.

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All of the cardinals, when they are not gathered in the Sistine Chapel, will stay in a modern Vatican City residence comprising 106 suites, 22 single rooms and one apartment. Each of the simply-furnished living spaces contain a sitting room with a desk, three chairs, a wall cabinet and large closet, a bedroom with dresser, night table and clothes stand, and a private bathroom. While the Domus Sanctae Marthae has basic luxuries such as cable TV and telephones in each room, the cardinals won't reap the benefits of the home comforts as they will be entirely disconnected from the rest of the world for the conclave period. Sequestered within Vatican City and having taken an oath of secrecy, the cardinals will not be permitted to call anyone externally, watch TV, or tweet, which nine of the 117 do on a daily basis, including the Pope himself who has 1,500,000 Twitter followers.

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Communication with the outside world is absolutely prohibited, and to ensure their privacy, guests on the higher floors of the five-story building – that lies just inside the Vatican walls – may be forced to keep their window shutters closed for the duration of the election. The 'Domus', as it's called within the Vatican, complete with a dining room, large chapel and four more small chapels, as well as various relaxing rooms for discussions and reading, is a hospitality residence named after St Martha that was transformed under John Paul II to house cardinals and other appropriate figures for occasions such as these. The 1996 chirograph, or deed, reads that the residence was to "offer hospitality – in a spirit of authentic priestly fraternity – to ecclesiastical personnel serving at the Secretariat of State and... cardinals and bishops visiting Vatican City to see the Pope or to participate in events and meetings organized by the Holy See." As the cardinals pass the duration of the world's oldest institution in their simple, yet comfortable surroundings, taking the short bus ride to the Sistine Chapel for their twice-daily voting sessions, the world will wait in St Peter's Square, eager to see the colour of the smoke that rises from the chimney of the conclave room.

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