For some time I have been excluded from my own emails, treated as an intruder on my own life, or as a negative alien. Hence my blog silence. This happens the moment I take my notebook away from its home base in Beverley. It starts playing up like a recalcitrant child.


I was thinking of this while in the Papal Palace here in Viterbo, a quiet town north of Rome on the consular road, the Via Cassia. Heat, political unrest and feuding between families made cardinals flee the papal city in the 1200s to take refuge and regroup. Here in the huge room of the Papal Palace they met on a number of occasions to elect a new pope from amongst themselves.

 It happened on one occasion that they discussed and discussed but couldn’t decide who to elect. There they stayed, living in thirteenth-century luxury (no WCs), waited on and fed by the local inhabitants – at their expense. This lasted over two years. Local goodwill ebbed. Another six months, and still no result. In Viterbo, patience had run out. The cardinals were locked in ‘con clave’, with a key, so the first conclave took place. No conclusion.Their rations were cut to bead and water only. Another month, and the Viterbo citizens removed the roof of the hall. So the cardinals scooped out holes in the pavement and erected poles to support awnings. Still no result. Then, after another month – three after they were locked in – the cardinals finally elected an absent cardinal as the next pope. The key was turned in the heavy door, the cardinals were allowed out into the square. The first conclave had ended.

078 - Papal Palace, Viterbo