Lead Seals and Chains From the 1963 Conclave Electing Paul VI Pope
Lead Seals and Chains From the 1963 Conclave Electing Paul VI PopeLead Seals and Chains From the 1963 Conclave Electing Paul VI Pope

The following commentary is from the EWTN series, The Papacy: A Living History, The Papal Artifacts Collection of Father Richard Kunst. It is from the second episode of Season 2: The Canonization of Pope John XXII. A DVD of Season 2 will be available from EWTN in 2015.

The commentary provided here is a compilation of the conversation between Father Richard Kunst, the Papal Artifacts’ Expert, and his co-host, Father Ryan Moravitz.

One of the most interesting parts of papal history for me are papal elections. There is so much intrigue when it comes to elections, and now a days, we see, with the recent election of Pope Francis and Benedict before him, the whole world watches. With the twenty-four hour news service that we have, it really is the whole world watching. The whole world cared before, but they couldn’t follow along. They didn’t have the media.

The history of papal elections is one of those things where truth is certainly stranger and more interesting than fiction.

The items presented here are two seals that were used to seal the doors of the Sistine chapel during the conclave following the death of Pope John XXIII. So it says, “conclave” on one side, and on the other side, it has the date, 1963, which is the year John XXIII died.

These are often associated with Paul VI because he was the one elected, but they’re equally associated with John XXIII, because, obviously, were it not for his passing, we wouldn’t have the conclave seals.

One thing that comes to mind when we think of the conclave is one will walk out of the Sistine chapel as the pope. Certainly, that individual must be overwhelmed, and imagine if family and friends from his native land see a native son come out on the loggia.

In John XXIII’s case, he was the third of thirteen children from a good Catholic family up in Bergamo, a little town north of Milan. Just imagine their awe and wonder and the excitement of it but also the fear.

Yes, there is a recent picture of Pope Francis as he’s leaving the Sistine chapel and the door is half open, and as he’s walking out, I’m thinking, “What’s going through that guy’s mind?”

Is he scared to death?!

These seals are interesting in that they are witnesses to a very unique history, the election of a pope. These things sealed the doors of the Sistine chapel. In the Collection, I have seals from three different conclaves, two in 1978: John Paul I and John Paul II, and these two after the death of John XXIII.

Additional Information about the Rarity of These Items:

These lead seals are some of the finest items in Father Kunst’s collection. They are nickel size seals that held the chains blocking one set of doors of the conclave. On one side the year is noted, 1963; the other side simply says Conclave.

When the cardinals go into conclave in the Sistine Chapel to elect a pope the doors are sealed shut using these lead seals. There is only one pair used per door making them an exceedingly rare item.