Responding to Pope
John Paul II's request, the Vatican rang bells in addition
to sending up white smoke to signal the election of his successor
Black smoke means no decision has been made. Normally the
vote takes around 5 days, but it did once take 3 years. It
was also a tradition not to give the voting cardinals anything
to eat, so that they would hurry up with their decision. They
also used to sleep on the floor of the chapel.
One of the most famous aspects of the papal-election process
is how the results of a ballot are announced to the world.
The ballots are counted and bound together, then burned in
a special temporary oven in the Sistine Chapel, with the smoke
escaping through a chimney visible from St. Peter's Square.
The ballots from an unsuccessful vote are burned along with
a chemical compound in order to produce black smoke, or "fumata
nera." (Traditionally wet straw was used to help create
the black smoke, but a number of "false alarms"
in past conclaves have brought about this concession to modern
chemistry.) When a vote is successful, the ballots are burned
alone, sending white smoke ("fumata bianca") through
the chimney and announcing to the world the election of a
These two photos, taken on 30th March 2005, show the Sistine
Chapel without a chimney
- 115 Cardinals assemble
- Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel walls and ceiling
nearly 500 years ago
- Black smoke means a vote has failed to produce a pope
- White smoke means the cardinals have come to agreement
- On October 26, 1958 the smoke was grey and caused confusion
- Black smoke bombs were used to remedy the situation
- Some of the smoke backed into the room, making the cardinals
- Smoke signals have been used continuously at least since
- There is little record of colour confusion until the
- In 1963 they switched to Italian army flares producing
black and white smoke
- In the first of two 1978 conclaves, they experimented
with chemical additives, but the smoke came out gray when
John Paul I was elected and was unpleasant inside the chapel
- Two months later, after John Paul I's death prompted another
conclave, the cardinals used army flares again. But the
black smoke turned gray leading to confusion
- Vatican Radio confirms the smoke colour and know because
of a button installed in the Sistine Chapel after 1958.
The Vatican has never commented on the reports, however.
- It was announced last week that the Vatican was trying
to make the colour more easily identifiable.
- The bells of St. Peter's Basilica will ring in addition
to the white smoke, to make the election of the pope clearer.
Pope Benedict XVI was elected on the 19th of
April 2005 after 4 ballots.
White smoke issued from the chimney again on 13 March 2013
(above) when the conclave voted Pope Francis the new Pope
on the 5th ballot.
During the 2013 conclave, the Vatican disclosed the chemicals used to colour the smoke:
- Fumata nera (dark smoke - no decision):
- Potassium perchlorate
- Fumata bianca ( white smoke - pope chosen):
- Potassium chlorate
- Lactose / milk sugar
- Colophony / pine rosin
These are some of the chemicals we use in our coloured smokes.
Create your own Papal Election simulation!
We can supply both white and black smoke cartridges
suitable for papal elections, local elections, shareholder
voting et al!
Details on our coloured
Our low cost smoke
pellets are available in white and cardinal
York Times spoke to Pea Soup about the smoke in the 2013 papal