Video: High-tech secrecy at conclave

updated 4/16/2005 7:44:44 PM ET 2005-04-16T23:44:44

A false floor in the Sistine Chapel hides the jamming devices used to make sure the deliberations of 115 cardinals are kept secret during next week's conclave -- but even on Saturday some cell phones were still working inside the frescoed room.

The Vatican let a group of journalists briefly visit the Sistine Chapel two days before cardinals sit down to vote for a successor to Pope John Paul II, giving a brief glimpse of the room where the leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics will be decided.

The famous stove, where the ballots will be burned and treated with chemicals to spew out white or black smoke, sits at the back of the chapel on the left, opposite an organ. The stove is actually two machines: one a cast iron stove where the ballots are burned and the other an electric air pump, with a big red "Start" button on it, that will pump air to make sure the smoke makes it out the chimney.

Etched on the top of the stove are the dates of previous conclaves that it's been used, dating back to the start of last century and with the last inscription 1978, when John Paul was elected. The two machines are joined by a copper pipe that snakes up the wall and out the window, supported by scaffolding.

False floor
A ramp leads the cardinals up to a raised false floor where their chairs are. A Swiss Guard explained that the jamming devices used to prevent listening devices, cell phones and bugs from working were located under the floor.

When asked earlier Saturday whether the precautions taken to ensure secrecy during the conclave were sufficient, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls had suggested reporters try out their cell phones inside the chapel. "Try them, and if they work, it (the prevention measures) went badly," he said.

Many cell phones didn't work inside, but a few did have reception. When asked whether other measures would be taken, a Swiss Guard said he didn't know.

Six tables, draped with burgundy skirting and beige tablecloths, run the length of the two side walls, for a total of 12 tables with wooden chairs tucked in behind each one. A smaller table with five chairs around it sits in the front of the altar, right beneath Michelangelo's "The Last Judgment," where the so-called "scrutineers" will sit and count the ballots.

In the center of the chapel is a small table with the book of the Gospels. Each cardinal will place his hand on it and take an oath of secrecy. He who is elected will also make a pledge to carry out the duties as pope of the universal church.

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