The Domus Sanctae Marthae, the residence where cardinal electors will rest during the conclave, is pictured at the Vatican.


The Domus Sanctae Marthae, the residence where cardinal electors will rest during the conclave, is pictured at the Vatican.

March 4, 2013

When they are not in the Sistine Chapel, seated under Michelangelo's frescoes to vote for the next pope, the cardinal-electors will stay in a modern guesthouse that offers them both privacy and space to gather for relaxed conversation.

The Domus Sanctae Marthae, a hospitality residence named after St. Martha, lies on the edge of Vatican City.

Most of the cardinals will take short bus rides to the Sistine Chapel for their twice-daily voting sessions, although during the 2005 conclave, some cardinals insisted on walking – under the protective gaze of Vatican security – behind St. Peter's Basilica and into the chapel.

The five-storey residence was built in 1996 and normally houses clerical and lay guests attending Vatican conferences and events. But for the conclave, its 131 rooms will be cleared out, and the cardinals will move in.

The Domus is just inside the Vatican walls, and its upper floors can be seen by Rome apartment buildings; for the 2005 conclave, the shutters on the windows were locked to ensure no one could see in. Of course, that also meant the cardinals could not see out.

The building will be off-limits to "unauthorized persons" during the conclave, but staff will be needed to cook and clean. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who serves as the camerlengo or chamberlain, and three cardinal assistants are required to vet the personnel.

Like the cardinals, staff members are required to take an oath of silence, promising "absolute and perpetual secrecy" regarding anything related to the election.


They also must "promise and swear to refrain from using any audio or video equipment capable of recording anything which takes place during the period of the election within Vatican City."

In a document released Feb. 25, Pope Benedict defined the exact penalty – automatic excommunication – that would be incurred by any non-cardinal assisting the College of Cardinals who failed to maintain absolute secrecy about the conclave proceedings.

The penalty for cardinals who break the oath of secrecy, however, remains unspecified.


When they come in and out of the residence, the cardinals will pass a bronze bust of Blessed John Paul II, who decided in 1996 that the conclave cardinals should have decent quarters. Previously, the cardinals slept on cots in small, stuffy rooms next door to the Sistine Chapel.

While the Domus offers relative comfort, it is not a luxury hotel. The building has 105 two-room suites and 26 singles.

Each suite has a sitting room with a desk, three chairs, a cabinet and large closet; a bedroom with dresser, night table and clothes stand; and a private bathroom with a shower.

The rooms all have telephones, but the cardinals are prohibited from using them to phone anyone outside the conclave. The international satellite television system will be disconnected for the duration.

The building also has a large meeting room and a variety of small sitting rooms. The most convivial place in the residence is the dining room, where the cardinals will take their meals.

The building also has a small main chapel and four private chapels, located at the end of hallways on the third and fifth floors of each of the building's two wings.