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A conclave seen from inside the Vatican Museums

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A conclave is a moment of change and anticipation to discover who will be the new successor of St. Peter and leader of the universal Catholic Church. 

But imagine experiencing a conclave from inside the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel to the other secret passageways blocked off to the public. This is the experience of Gianni Crea, the Vatican's Key Master.

Vatican Museum Key Master
“During the conclave, we, the competent authorities, divide the keys and close all the doors from the Museums to the Sistine Chapel's interior. Then, the sole key we have to the Sistine Chapel is kept by the Gendarmeria to make sure the silence and nomination of the next pope remains secret. The keys are designed so no one can have access to the interior of the Sistine Chapel from the side of the Vatican Museums, but only cardinals entering from the Regal Room.”

Each cardinal under age 80 is eligible to vote starting the first day inside the Sistine Chapel. Votes are cast each morning and afternoon until a two-thirds majority vote for the same person is cast. 

After each round of voting, the famous black or white smoke can be seen from the Sistine Chapel, of which the Vatican's key master has an exclusive view.

Vatican Museums Key Master
“From here you can see the Sistine Chapel and if the smoke emitted is black or white. White smoke means the new pope has been elected. When my colleagues and I saw this in the last conclave with Pope Francis, we ran to St. Peter's Square to find out the name of the new pope.”

Nobody can predict a conclave's length. In fact the longest one was nearly three years, while the shortest was only three ballots. 

Yet, no matter the length, at least the view from the Vatican Museums is beautiful, as cardinals inside the Sistine Chapel or key holders closely watching from outside. 

Melissa Butz