Updated: June 04, 2014 08:02 PM GMT
Picture: The Telegraph/Rex
It was a secret vote which changed the course of the papacy and set one man on the path to sainthood.
But a rare set of papal voting papers, smuggled out of the 1903 Conclave, spell out how Cardinal Giusppe Melchiorre Sarto – now known as Saint Pius X – would almost certainly not have become Pope had it not been for political interference and a now long-forgotten quirk of ecclesiastical law.
The papers, due to be auctioned in London on Thursday, include a tally of results from early voting in the papal election of August 1903 showing that another cardinal, Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro, was by far the most popular candidate.
But Cardinal Rampolla, who had been the Vatican Secretary of State under the previous Pope, Leo XIII, was blocked by the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph through powers known as the Jus exclusivae, which allowed a select group of Roman Catholic monarchs to veto any would-be pope of whom they disapproved.
The procedure, used only a handful of times in history, allowed a king or queen of Spain or France or the Holy Roman or Austro-Hungarian emperor, to nominate one of the cardinals in advance to exercise their veto with instructions to step in if someone to whom they objected was about to be elected.
Although Cardinal Sarto benefited from the move, as it enabled him to become Pope, there was outrage at the interference and he personally abolished the Jus exclusivae.
The papers, which are to be sold by Fraser’s Autographs at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions in London, include a hand-written tally from the second round of voting showing that Rampolla had already secured the support of 29 of the 61 cardinals present in the Sistine Chapel – just short of a majority.
Meanwhile Sarto had only 10 votes. But, after Rampolla was vetoed, he went on to be elected Pope in the seventh round of voting.
He died in August 1914, just after the outbreak of the First World War, and was canonised 40 years later.
The exact reason why the Emperor objected to Rampolla is not known but he is regarded as a Vatican reformer and it is thought he was deemed too liberal for Franz Joseph. Pius X, by contrast, was a traditionalist who is remembered for condemning modernism.
Conclave rules ban Cardinals from revealing details of the ballot and traditionally the papers are burnt in a special stove producing black smoke if the vote is inconclusive and white when a new pope has been elected.
But the papers being auctioned were retained by Cardinal Domenico Svampa, the then Archbishop of Bologna.
In addition to the tally, they include a ballot paper with a signed statement by Cardinal Svampa on the reverse insisting that he had voted for Sarto. The papers were later part of the collection of an Italian journalist who has since died.
“Svampa could have kept the ballot paper writing a statement on it as evidence that his vote for Sarto was not a second choice in obedience to the imperial veto but was a decision he had made himself from the very beginning of the conclave,” one of the vendors explained.
“A good political move, maybe, since Sarto became Pope."
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