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  • John Thavis

The famous stove where ballots are burned

I was among the journalists who were given a guided visit to the Sistine Chapel this morning, where workmen were busy finishing the construction on the seating platform. The stove where ballots are burned is the same two-chamber unit that was used in 2005. One chamber burns the ballots, while in the other chemical canisters are loaded to make sure the black smoke (an inconclusive election) is really black, and the white smoke (Habemus Papam) is really white.

Above the stove runs a copper smokestack to the roof of the Sistine, where it joins the exterior smokestack seen by the world.

If history is any guide, despite the high-tech stove, people outside will argue whether the smoke is white or black.

The Vatican spokesman said today that technicians would be testing the stove, but not actually emitting any smoke — that would cause too much confusion and excitement in St. Peter’s Square.

He also said that, in the event of white smoke during the conclave, the big bell of St. Peter’s Basilica would begin to toll. For details on how that worked out during the last conclave, see Chapter 1 of my book.

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