Papal conclave, 1914

Papal conclave
August–September 1914

Coat of arms during the vacancy of the Holy See
Dates and location
31 August – 3 September 1914
Sistine Chapel, Apostolic Palace,
Key officials
Dean Serafino Vannutelli
Sub-Dean Francesco di Paola Cassetta
Camerlengo Francesco Salesio Della Volpe
Protodeacon Francesco Salesio Della Volpe
Ballots 10
Elected Pope
Giacomo della Chiesa
(Name taken: Benedict XV)

The Papal conclave of 1914 was held to choose a successor to Pope Pius X, who had died in the Vatican on 20 August 1914.

Political context

The Sistine Chapel, location of the 1914 conclave

With Europe facing World War I, whoever was selected would face the difficulty of leading the Holy See through the war to end all wars, in which Catholic Belgium and France were attacked by Protestant Germany, which was supported by Catholic Austria while the Protestant United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (including Catholic Ireland) and Russian Orthodox Russia sided with France. Critics wondered whether the Holy See should remain neutral or whether it should assume a position of moral leadership by casting public judgments on the behaviour of the various combatants.

The conclave brought together cardinals from the combatant nations, including Károly Hornig from Austria-Hungary, Louis Luçon from France, Felix von Hartmann from Germany and two from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Francis Bourne and Michael Logue .

Veto abolished

After the lying-in-state and funeral of the popular but controversial Pope Pius X, cardinals assembled for the conclave at the end of August 1914. One major difference with earlier conclaves was that this time no secular monarch claimed a veto over whomever the cardinals could select as pope, as a result of legislation promulgated by Pius X, that established that whosoever attempted to introduce a veto in the conclave would incur automatic excommunication. For the first time in centuries the cardinals alone would make the choice.

New pope

Day Ballot Result
1 1 No pope elected
2 2
3 6
4 10 Pope elected

The conclave itself assembled in the Sistine Chapel on 31 August. From the beginning of the conclave, it was clear that there were only three possible winners. Domenico Serafini, a Benedictine and assessor at the Holy Office, won the support of the Curia to continue Pius X's anti-modernist campaign as his chief priority. However, many other cardinals, such as Carlo Ferrari and Desiré Merciér, believed that a Pope with a different focus was needed and supported the Archbishop of Pisa Pietro Maffi, considered very liberal but tainted by being close to the House of Savoy. Giacomo della Chiesa, Archbishop of Bologna, stood intermediate between Maffi and Serafini, but in the early ballots he was equal with Maffi and seemed to be winning some support from conservative factions. Della Chiesa drew ahead by five votes after the fourth ballot, and once it became clear Maffi had no hope whatsoever of gaining two-thirds of the votes, Serafini became Della Chiesa's opponent. By 3 September 1914, on the tenth ballot, all of Maffi's supporters had switched to Della Chiesa, who was elected pope. He took the name Benedict XV.

Reportedly Della Chiesa had been elected by one vote. According to the rules in force at the time, the ballot papers had a numbering on the reverse side, so that, if the election was decided by only one vote, it could be checked whether or not the elected person had voted for himself, in which case the election would be void. According to that account, Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, who had been Pius X's Secretary of State, insisted that the ballots be checked to ensure that Della Chiesa had not voted for himself – he had not. When the cardinals offered their homage to the new pope, Benedict allegedly said to Merry del Val, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." To which the unabashed Merry del Val replied with the next verse of Psalm 118: "This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes."[1]

Cardinal Merry del Val wasn't reappointed as Secretary of State by the new Pope, but was named Secretary of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office (then the head of that Dicastery, because the Popes themselves retained the office of Prefect of the Holy Office, leaving its daily administration to the secretary).

Absent 8
Present 57
Africa 0
Latin America 1
North America 1
Asia 0
Europe 55
Oceania 0
Mid-East 0
Italians 33
VETO USED? none; abolished

See also


  1. Weigel, George (21 April 2005). "Conclaves: Surprises abound in the Sistine Chapel". The Madison Catholic Herald Online. Retrieved 13 February 2014. line feed character in |title= at position 11 (help)
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