Sede Vacante

March 13, 2013 / Local Interest
Rome, Italy
sede-vacante1Many wonder what it’s like in Rome while the sede (chair) is vacante (vacant, empty). It’s logical to think that daily life in the city changes during the rare periods when there is no pope. The truth is, if you didn’t have a television and didn’t drive by the Vatican at all, then you would notice that daily life in Rome during the sede vacante and conclave is pretty much same old same old.

Schools are in session, shops and offices are open for business as usual. There’s no huge influx of pilgrims, and the number of visitors is pretty much the same as were here in March last year. Basically, you wouldn’t know at all.

What you might barely notice is a couple of percentage points higher than average ratio of clergy to lay people walking the streets, as well as a higher than average number of folks hauling broadcast quality video cameras and tripods across town.

sede-vacante3However, if you were to head to Via della Conciliazione and the colonade of Piazza San Pietro, a couple of things would definitely stand out. There is your standard Sunday-sized crowd standing in the Piazza even though there is no pope at the window and it’s not Sunday. There are numerous enormous marquis and scaffolding bleacher-like constructions everywhere that seem to contain more than half of the world’s aforementioned audio-visual gear, operators, and microphone wielding journalists.

You’ll see gaggles of nuns waddle about, sandaled monks taking photos (aren’t their toes cold?), Carabinieri good-naturedly joking with one and all who come through the checkpoints, and if you enter any of the local cafes you’ll likely be up at the counter drinking your cappuccino next to a priest or nine doing the same. It’s worth the visit just to crowd-watch alone.

However, what most people (and all journalists) are here for (while waiting to greet the new Pope, of course) is to watch the most filmed and photographed stove pipe in the history of human kind. You can barely see it from the piazza, and so to make it easy for everyone to know what is going on, there are four or five HUGE screens throughout the piazza showing live footage of it. Four times a day now, black smoke will come out of it. When it emits white smoke instead, then haberimus papam (we will have a pope), and the sede will be vacante no more.





by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

15 Responses to “Sede Vacante”

  1. Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    I do feel sorry for those cold toes and the drizzle over both pilgrims and journalists. Let’s hope the new Pope is elected soon so that people can go back in the warm. Thanks for the great note GB.

  2. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    All is vero as said in La Gazetta ‘is there a difference, will there be a difference?’ life will continue until it stops

  3. John Douglas

    Is “waddle about” a penguin joke or a fat joke? In either case, it is inappropriate.

  4. Toni DeBella

    …Jumbotrons for the Pope! Will they also have instant replay when white smoke emerges? Yeah, kinda much ado about nothing….toni

  5. Thanks, GB. Good to have our own man in Rome to give us the insider’s picture!

  6. Jane Parker

    Enjoyed this post. The tongue in cheek was fun to read–didn’t find waddling nuns offensive. Loved the pictures, especially the monk with his backpack, umbrella and camera–so universal! Thanks for giving us a visual of how the piazza looks right now as the media prepares for the moment. Almost as good as being there.

  7. GB, The note is great thanks. It’s funny as I was reading it I was wondering if our president just up and quit stating he’s just to tired to do his job. What would happen?
    Our own country and many others worldwide would be watching televisions and or hanging around our white house just as they are doing at the Vatican. Life does go on but thanks for being there…we love your reports.

  8. Anne Ladky

    GB–I love Italian Notebook, so thanks for creating it and for the great posts. There’s nothing wrong with my sense of humor, Janice, but I was taken aback by the “gaggles of nuns waddling about.” Struck me as kind of a cheap shot–esp. given that there was no similarly deprecating humor aimed at priests.

  9. I am a Catholic avidly following the events in Rome. I very much enjoyed your commentary on the lack of effects on normal Roman life, and the shots, especially of the journalists’ scaffolding. Also liked seeing the chimney from the square. As you said, hard to notice. Yes, you could have skipped the word waddling, but otherwise, very good. (The sisters and nuns I know are thin, BTW, and don’t wadde.)

  10. Paul Huckett

    Well, the waddling nuns now know who their leader will be for the next few years at least .A Jesuit -has there been a Jesuit Pope before ? Certainly not a South American .I hope he can bring the Church into the 21st Century (he has already Twittered as Pope !), unifying his flock and dealing with the world-wide disgrace of sexual abuse .

  11. GB

    Oops, sorry folks, didn’t mean to offend! I saw a few groups of nuns from a ways away, no idea whether they thin or not. Just that all of them had a lot of fabric on them! Ample habits, winter coats, rain capes… it all gave a to-and-fro swooshing motion to their walking is all.


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