The Papal Conclave – Faith, Symbolism and Ritual

Task: To design a memory room around a certain historical event, this room doesn’t need to be historically or spatially accurate but should contain some form of interpretation or abstraction to give it meaning or memory.  An opportunity to combine fact and fiction as no room should be entirely factual or fictional.
Following interests in the role of faith within society that I developed last year I choose to look at the Papal Conclave for the task, an event that happens sporadically in the Sistine Chapel. The Catholic Church I find especially interesting as it openly breaches the line of politicising faith in certain countries becoming involved in national elections and revolts. Therefore the Papal Conclave is a private election that can potentially have a huge impact politically around the world. In researching the ceremony it was interesting how similar it is to a political election process, although not democratic in the sense of the common man voting for a leader it is strikingly democratic between the many cardinals of the Catholic Faith, the voting process is continually repeated until a candidate receives a two third majority. The role of the elected pope is ‘supreme, full, immediate universal power’ in which he elects Cardinals, liaises with political leaders and provides spiritual guidance thus he has great influence in the future direction of the Church.
It was fascinating to discover the tradition and ritual within the process that has happened in the same fashion for hundreds of years, following the procession into the Chapel, Cardinals must vote by placing their ballot slip into a silver and bronze earn by the altar. The votes are then counted by the ‘scrutinizers’ and then checked by a team of ‘revisers’. If a two thirds majority is not met the votes will be burned in the stove in the corner of the chapel and a chemical will be added to ensure the smoke is black, indicating indecision to the public onlookers. The process is then repeated until a majority is reached at which point the votes will be burnt with a white smoke indicating a decision has been made. The areas I was most interested in was the privacy of the election and the symbolism and communicative element of the chimney.
Within the model I wanted to use church symbolism to express the function of the building. Holy buildings use symbolism heavily which is commonly recognised, I want to capitalise this within my model to indicate to the viewer it’s function and associations. As the model is about the Papal Conclave rather than the Sistine Chapel as a space specifically I choose not to show the Michael Angelo frescoes as I felt this distracted from the narrative. The external walls of the church crudely indicate its function with the verticality of the building emphasising the heavens and pointed arch windows typical of gothic architecture which is heavily associated with Christianity. Within the model white paper ribbons were used to indicate the ceremony from the procession in, to the vow, the vote and then the smoke to indicate the decision. The privacy of the ceremony was then expressed with contrasting cardboard inside and out and the view in through lifting the roof, emphasising the isolation of the election.
  • Ribbon move as you tell the story of the ceremony/election? Indecision to decision/Process- interactive? Gif?
  • Explore movement?
  • What are the minimum elements needed to indicate Church/Faith?

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