The Conclave of 1903 lasted from the afternoon of Friday, July 31, to August 4. At this point in time, the Jus exclusivae had already been invoked by Franz Jozeph, and Cardinal Rampolla, the leading choice of the Conclave, was out of the running.
Politics were also involved. Not only were the Austria-Hungary and German allies in agreement regarding their opposition to Rampolla but also, the Italian government, part of the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, was also hostile to him, since Rampolla was affected by the Italian government’s overthrow of his own Sicilian interest in the south.
The veto served all of these interests.
And, thus, the 4th ballot began to favor the most acceptable candidate, Sarto.
Archbishop Merry del Val, the secretary of the conclave, after several other duties connected to the legitimacy of the candidates, was sent to check on the Patriarch of Venice, Sarto, and found him, after the 5th ballot, kneeling before an image of Our Lady of Good Counsel in the Pauline Chapel, crying. Del Val abandoned his mission, which was to secure an answer from Sarto regarding his acceptance or formal refusal to be elected.
Instead, he held the emotional Sarto and told him, Eminence, take courage! The Lord will help.
Merry del Val was a perfect candidate to aid the new Pope. Fluent in many languages, youthful and loyal, he became Pius X’s right arm. We know him today, for, among other things, his Litany of Humility, in which he shows his deep desire for holiness.
Raphael Merry del Val became the new Pope’s Secretary of State and heavily influenced the career of one man, in particular: Giacomo della Chiesa, a career diplomat, loyal to Cardinal Rampolla and Pope Leo XIII. In fact, it is thought he was “exiled” to Bologna as their Bishop as a way of limiting his influence at the Vatican. Bologna always had a cardinal until della Chiesa came. It took seven years for that to happen, and, in fact, Cardinal Merry del Val’s flowing handwriting shows the names of all but della Chiesa’s in the consistory of 1914. His name was hand written by Pope Pius X’s. Three months later, at the death of this Pope, the new Cardinal della Chiesa became Pope Benendict XV.
As the ballots continue to be counted, Giuseppe Sarto, Patriarch of Venice draws closer to the barque of Peter.
On August 4th, on the 7th and final ballot, Sarto received 50 votes, and the son of a postman and a seamstress becomes the 257th Supreme Pontiff.
August 4, 1903: Habemus Papa: Giuseppe Sarto Is Elected in the Historic Conclave of 1903
It was not without angst that Cardinal Sarto ascended to the throne of the highest office in the Catholic church. In fact, he was so distressed he thought of resigning as Patriarch of Venice and entering a monastery.
Look to others with your thoughts and votes. I am not worthy. I am not capable. Forget about me!
His words acted in reverse on his fellow cardinals. They were impressed with his humility. However, the American cardinal, James Gibbons was cynical. He thought Sarto’s protests acted in favor of his election.
His words caused him to be more esteemed than he would have been on the merits of his works or the testimony of those who knew him.
A pretty harsh critique of a man who eventually became a saint.
Instaurare Omnia in Christo (restore all things in Christ) was the motto he chose for his papacy. Pope Pius X reigned until 1914. Pope Pius XII canonized him in 1954.
A deeply conservative man who was so transparently good and humble, he was highly regarded for his holiness during his own lifetime. Many miracles were credited to him even while still alive.
He died at the beginning of World War I and was devastated at its outbreak. Rather than bless the Austrian troops who sought his blessing, he simply stated, I will bless peace.
He was seventy-nine years of age and was buried initially in the Vatican grottoes. In the 1950’s his body was transferred, along with Blessed Innocent XI’s and (eventually) Saint John XXIII’s, to three altars in St. Peter’s Basilica where their relics are venerated in glass sarcophagi.
His election ended the drama of the historic 1903 Conclave, another chapter in the living history of our Church.
Saint Pius X, pray for us!
Papal Artifacts encourages you to visit Saint Pius X’s biography under Papal History/Pius X which features much information and many artifacts connected to the Pope who reigned from 1903-1914.